Town and village continue hearing about suspended chief’s alleged violations of codes of conduct

By Michael S. Hoey

Correspondent

Darien Emergency Medical Services Board members say they suspended their chief for making decisions without consulting with the board and violating multiple codes of conduct.

The EMS Department met with the Darien village and town boards for three hours July 21 to make its case about why Chief Eric Sladek should be removed as chief.

Less than halfway through the department’s list of witnesses, the board decided to continue the hearing until 6 p.m. Thursday at the Darien Senior Center.

Sladek was removed as chief and suspended from the EMS Board of Directors for 30 days on June 18. Board of Directors member Molly Jo Baars informed the Village Board on June 20 that the board had voted to remove Sladek as chief and suspend him from the board at a meeting June 18.

Sladek denied all of the allegations made against him and, through his attorney Steven Harvey, requested a full evidentiary hearing. Harvey was informed department policy allows Sladek to appeal disciplinary action before the joint village and town boards. That meeting began July 21.

According to minutes from the June 18 meeting, Sladek allegedly violated department policies regarding department organization and the job description of the rescue chief, the department policy organization chart, a review of department rules and regulations, the member code of ethics and department representation.

Unauthorized decisions

Baars represented the EMS Department on July 21. Her arguments were that Sladek, who was elected to a one-year term as chief Jan. 1, has not given the members or the EMS Board of Directors a voice in some major decisions he has made as chief, and he represented the board at a joint meeting of the village and town boards May 24 without informing anyone on the board that he was planning to do so.

First Assistant Chief Cheri Krueger, who was named interim chief in Sladek’s absence, was the first of 14 scheduled witnesses for the EMS Department. Krueger identified the department’s code of ethics and organizational chart. She said the chart shows that the chief is listed below the board, and the board is listed below the joint village and town board.

Krueger also identified a policy cover sheet that she said was supposed to be used to implement any policy changes. She said she had not seen Sladek use that form to make any of the changes he has made since becoming chief.

Baars asked Krueger which of the board member code of ethics Sladek violated in her opinion and how. Krueger said Sladek violated No. 1, “Represent the interests of all people served by the organization, and not favor interests inside or outside this organization” by shutting down membership and not allowing them to express opinions at several meetings, in particular on June 13. Krueger said Sladek not allowing the EMS board to express opinions also violated No. 4, “Respect and support the majority decisions of the Board of Directors.”

Krueger said Sladek violated No. 5, “Approach all board issues with an open mind, prepared to make the best decision for everyone involved” by putting things on meeting agendas and then not allowing discussion of those items.

Krueger said Sladek appeared at a joint meeting of the village and town boards May 24 to get several changes approved without ever informing the EMS board or its members that he intended to do so. Krueger said that violated No. 6, “Do nothing to violate the trust of those who elected me to the board or of those we serve,” and No. 8, “Never exercise authority as a board member except when acting in a meeting with the full board or as the board delegates me.”

Krueger also said she believes Sladek violated No. 9, “Consider myself a ‘trustee’ of the organization and do my best to ensure that it is well maintained, financially secure, growing and always operating in the best interests of those we serve,” because she discovered after being named interim chief that several bills had been left unpaid and some department licensing had not been updated. Harvey successfully argued to have that argument stricken because it had not been included as one of the original charges against Sladek.

Krueger said Sladek violated the department’s organization and job description for chief by not discussing changes he was making with the board. Some of the changes Sladek allegedly made on his own were to join the Walworth County Fire and EMS Alliance, to require EMS volunteers to work a minimum of 20 hours a week, to require members to serve the Sharon EMS department if needed, and to switch from Paratech to Medix for support because Medix provides advanced life support services Paratech does not provide.

Krueger also said Sladek violated department rules and regulations by not using the proper form for policy changes and not posting the changes at least 14 days before implementation.

Baars asked if Krueger ever communicated her concerns with Sladek or anyone on the board. Krueger said she had. She said she talked with Sladek after a January meeting at which she says he struggled with how to run the meeting according to Robert’s Rules of Order and she told Darien Village Board member Jane Stiles there was unrest in the department.

Baars asked if Krueger gave Sladek an opportunity to correct his behaviors and Krueger said she had, but doing so was difficult because Sladek did not actively listen to members. She said Sladek’s response when questioned at a June 13 meeting about why the board had not been informed about changes was to ask the board members where in department policy it says he has to.

Baars asked if any other action than removal and suspension would have been appropriate in Krueger’s opinion. Krueger said that Sladek violated the trust of the board and the EMS members and a return to the chief position would not be appropriate.

Walking quorum

Under cross examination, Harvey asked several questions about the original notice of Sladek’s removal and suspension in an attempt to establish that it violated the open meetings law. Krueger said she had not talked to anyone about it before signing it other than Baars. Harvey questioned how the notice came about so quickly and why Baars wanted to have a meeting just two days after it was issued. Krueger said it was because of unrest in the department.

Harvey asked if, in Krueger’s opinion, the chief is required to send every decision he makes to the board and what he can do on his own. Kruger said she thinks he needs approval for everything except day-to-day operations. Harvey pointed out that department policy says the chief has command and control over all personnel, and day-to-day operations differ little from the decisions in dispute.

Harvey asked if advanced life support service is a personnel matter since it is staffed by people. Krueger said the service is staffed by people who do not work for the Darien EMS Department. Harvey asked if switching to Medix for the service was not within Sladek’s authority as chief as the chief is responsible for the operations of the department. Krueger said the department already had the service through the doctor who works with the department.

Harvey asked if the policy contains anything about who selects an advanced-life-support provider. Krueger said there isn’t, but the department usually is run like a democracy. Harvey pointed out that the word democracy is not used anywhere in the policy.

Harvey said that with new leadership can come disagreements and different interpretations of things, but Krueger said Sladek was aware of how the department was run since he had been a member before being elected chief.

Harvey asked questions establishing that no one was physically hurt by Sladek’s decisions and the department might have benefitted from some of them, in an attempt to establish the punishment for the violations he is accused of is too severe. He also asked if Krueger had any evidence that Sladek personally benefitted from the move to Medix. Kruger said she did not, though Sladek’s employer benefitted from getting a new contract. Sladek is an employee of Medix.

Much of Harvey’s questioning established that the problem EMS members had was not the decisions Sladek made but that he made them on his own without consulting the board. Harvey also established that some of the changes Sladek made went into effect July 1, and he had made the members aware of those changes on June 13, more than 14 days ahead of the effective date.

Harvey asked how Sladek failed to keep an open mind. Krueger said Sladek did not actively listen to members once his own opinion was formed. Harvey asked if members had the opportunity to have their say and Krueger said they did, though Sladek did not listen to them.

Harvey asked where in department policy it says the chief cannot authorize himself to represent the department at a joint meeting. Krueger said her interpretation is that more than one person should know if someone is going to represent the department or board.

Fast-paced change

Baars questioned advanced EMT officer Kelsey Mair and asked if she had ever expressed her concerns to Sladek. Mair said she had told Sladek that she had concerns that members had no say at meetings, and she was uncomfortable with the switch to Medix. She said Sladek told her that was just how it was going to be.

The focus of Harvey’s cross examination was establishing that Mair did not like the rate of change that Sladek had instituted and questioned if any real violations occurred or if the EMS members in general were just uncomfortable with change. Mair said changes were a lot to adjust to in six months and the requirement of working 20 hours a week was a disruption to her life. Harvey said the EMS board voted on and approved that change, and it was not unilaterally done by Sladek.

Second Assistant Chief Guy Legan testified next. Baars asked what complaints he had heard in his role as assistant chief. Legan said no one came to him with any complaints but he overheard complaints about scheduling. He said he thinks Sladek is a good EMT but maybe could brush up on his leadership, and the department should do things as a membership.

Harvey asked if the decision to work 20 hours a week had been voted on by the members and the board, and Legan said it had. Harvey said Sladek was therefore only carrying out a decision made by the board. Harvey also asked if the membership later voted to reduce the requirement to 10 hours and if Sladek resisted that. Legan said the board reduced the requirement to 10 hours and Sladek did not resist, though he was not happy about it.

Harvey asked if the previous chief ran the department more like a democracy. Legan said it was run like a membership. Harvey asked if Sladek has a different leadership style, and Legan said he did.

Baars then questioned EMT and board member Nellie Peck. Peck served as chief about eight years ago and said she had concerns about how quickly Sladek was instituting changes from the start. She also agreed that meeting with the joint boards May 24 and making changes without informing the board violated policy.

Harvey again alleged the original notice violated open meetings law and asked who Peck discussed the notice with before signing it. Peck said only Baars. Harvey asked how it all came about. Peck said several members expressed frustration after the June 13 meeting and combined with the previous several months of frustration led some of them to talk after the meeting and by phone. She said no formal meeting took place at which a quorum was present.

Harvey asked Peck if she ran the department more like a democracy when she was chief. She said she always took decisions to the board. Harvey asked where in the department policy that is required, and Peck said the policy does not require it.

Peck was the final witness of the evening. The hearing is set to resume at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Darien Senior Center.

 

 

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