While Brookfield officials remain mum on the reasons why Steven Stelter was forced out as police chief late last month, the village board voted unanimously on Nov. 9 to ratify a severance agreement with Stelter — one that includes a rather positive letter of reference.
Among the various provisions of the agreement, which includes Stelter waiving his right to sue the village for his termination, is a reference letter signed by Village Manager Keith Sbiral.
Often when public employees are removed from their positions and they agree to some sort of severance package, letters of reference are bare-bones notes indicating simply the dates the person worked for the organization.
But the letter included in Stelter’s severance agreement is something more than that. In addition to stating Stelter’s dates of employment as Brookfield’s police chief, the letter states:
“During his tenure, Chief Stelter improved police services through technological advances, relationship enhancement between the department and community as well as inter-departmental relationships. Chief Stelter was creative in how he approached his duties while concentrating on fiscal responsibility.
“Chief Stelter carried out his duties in an efficient and competent manner. Chief Stelter resigned from the village of Brookfield in good standing by mutual agreement.”
Stelter, 57, said Sbiral abruptly asked for his resignation on Oct. 30 and that he was not given a reason for the request. He had been police chief since December 2007 and was not a controversial figure in the administration.
He was hired by Sbiral’s predecessor and mentor, Riccardo Ginex, who left as Brookfield village manager in 2014 to take on the same role in Oak Brook.
Ginex told the Landmark he was shocked that Stelter apparently had been forced out. Sbiral told the Landmark the decision to ask for Stelter’s resignation was his alone.
Village President Kit Ketchmark, in a phone interview, confirmed that neither he nor the village board sought to oust Stelter.
“The board is not involved in personnel decisions or personnel management,” Ketchmark said. “The board has complete confidence in our village manager.”
Sbiral declined to elaborate on Stelter’s removal. When asked what the positive reference letter indicated about the situation, Sbiral said the content was arrived at by mutual agreement.
“Certainly in an agreement like this, both sides have to come to a conclusion,” Sbiral said. “That’s where we came out on this.”
In addition to the letter of reference, Stelter also walked away with more than $40,000 in severance pay and accumulated unused vacation days and sick leave.
The agreement called for Stelter to receive a lump sum payment of $13,302 in severance pay, which is equal to six weeks’ salary. In addition, Stelter was paid $9,311 for accrued unused vacation time and another $19,953 in accumulated sick leave.
The village’s personnel code allowed Stelter to accumulate up to 720 hours of sick leave and to be paid for 50 percent of accumulated sick leave when he was terminated.
At the time he left the village, Stelter had accumulated more than 720 hours of sick leave, but per the employee code, he was credited for half the maximum allowed, or 360 hours.
The village also agreed to pay two months of Stelter’s health and dental insurance premiums, which will amount to between $4,000 and $4,500, according to Sbiral.
Lieutenant James Episcopo has been appointed acting police chief. Next week, Sbiral said he would begin a process to find Stelter’s replacement.
For now, that search is focusing on internal candidates, according to Sbiral.
“I haven’t asked for applications yet, but I assume there will be several internal candidates,” Sbiral said.