By Ed Runyan
Village council fired police Chief John Kuivila, effective immediately.
A news release issued Tuesday by Village Manager Jack Haney at the conclusion of a special meeting said: The majority of council of Newton Falls “believes the police chief has undermined his ability to remain an effective leader.
Further, council “believes this action is for the good of all concerned, including the community, police department and the parties involved.”
It adds that “specific details of the severance procedures are going to be finalized with the police chief with his attorney.”
In 5-0 votes, the village terminated Kuivila’s contract, and appointed Sgt. Rick Lisum as acting chief.
Kuivila did not attend the meeting and could not be reached to comment.
His attorney, Kimberly Kendall, said by telephone that council has not followed terms of Kuivila’s contract, which requires formal charges to be brought against the chief, a predisciplinary hearing and then arbitration if discipline is chosen.
Since no formal charges ever were given to her or Kuivila, she doesn’t know the reasons why the village moved forward with termination. She said Kuivila’s personnel file contains no mention of any disciplinary action against him during his four years as chief.
“They are bound by the contract, so there will be legal action,” Kendall said.
The termination follows meetings by village council Feb. 4 and Jan. 28 at which its members addressed allegations against the chief in closed-door meetings and ordered Haney and Law Director A. Joseph Fritz to determine disciplinary action against the chief.
Though council members, Mayor Lyle Waddell and Haney refused to discuss the matter Tuesday, at least one disciplinary matter apparently relates to accusations by two female police-department employees.
In a January letter to Haney, a police clerk accused the chief of making remarks about her appearance and “certain body parts” soon after she returned to work from maternity leave.
A female police officer also reported that she felt she was working under a hostile work environment because of a threat she said Kuivila made to her regarding the police department clerk.
Last week, Kendall said Kuivila and the clerk exchanged “hundreds of text messages a week” amounting to nearly “a thousand a month” until late December.
“They were friends, and there was nothing amorous, romantic or sexual about their relationship,” Kendall said, adding that the friendship ended after Kuivila’s wife discovered an unsent text message and confronted the clerk.