Council: Ex-chief’s decision ”˜demands response’

By ALEXANDRA SONDEEN
Herald Staff Writer

FERDINAND — The Ferdinand Town Council on Tuesday evening issued a statement and answered questions regarding controversy over the former police chief’s decision last month to step down.

Ted Bieker, a 24-year department veteran appointed as chief in April 2004, returned to his previous rank of captain effective May 17. Last month he cited ongoing conflict with the council and town manager and said he felt “micromanaged” and “disrespected.” Council members confirmed at the time that they had each individually asked Bieker to resign.

Council President Ken Sicard said Tuesday that the council had tried to avoid bringing private and personnel matters into the public arena out of respect for Bieker but was forced to respond to his four-page letter to the council that he read aloud at last month’s meeting and letters to the editor written by Bieker and his wife, Patty, published last week in the Ferdinand News.

“The continued attack upon the town council and the town manager now demands a response,” Sicard said, reading from a prepared four-and-a-half-page statement. (Read his full statement here — SicardResponse.pdf)

Sicard sought first to defend Town Manager Marc Steczyk, whom Bieker accused in his letter to the editor of dictating police procedures and berating town employees.

“In my opinion, there is a focused attempt to lay blame at (Steczyk’s) feet so as to pull attention away from that which is the simple truth — the Ferdinand Town Council replaced the former chief,” Sicard said.

Sicard said neither the council nor Steczyk has tried to dictate police procedure. He added that Steczyk fought for a sixth officer to be added to the force in 2009 with the understanding at the time that the new position would decrease overtime hours. The town manager has acted at the request of council members and occasionally in response to complaints by police officers.

“The claim that Marc is disrespectful to town employees has been particularly disheartening to him,” Sicard said, adding that Steczyk consistently has sought to commend the accomplishments of departments and individual employees both privately and publicly. “He admittedly is critical of employee actions if they are not constructive to Ferdinand’s goals, mission and vision — and, most importantly, if they differ from policy that (the) council has directed staff to adhere by.”

Sicard said none of the other department heads had any complaints similar to Bieker’s, and Steczyk declined to comment, deferring to the council.

Budgeting problems, particularly related to funding for the replacement of necessary equipment, also plagued the department during Bieker’s tenure, council members said.

“If there was not enough money to replace equipment, it was because the chief did not properly budget for those equipment repairs and we were having to find money out of other people’s budgets to adequately fund the things that they needed,” Councilwoman Debbie Johnson said.

Johnson said she attended numerous police department meetings and was concerned by a lack of organization and repeated requests by officers to replace broken equipment like flashlights and cameras.

Sicard noted in his statement that officers were sometimes forced to wear expired bulletproof vests for up to four months because new ones weren’t ordered, that the reserve officers didn’t get their badges until after two years on the force, that window tinting on department vehicles that contributed to an accident wasn’t removed until after a second accident, and that officers were without the federal identification that allows them to carry their service weapons across state lines.

In reference to lagging paperwork, Johnson said she personally had asked Bieker if he would like a secretary. She said Bieker declined the offer, citing the sensitive nature of the material officers handle daily. For the same reasons, she said, Bieker also declined to have the town’s summer interns help the department.

Sicard said he had documented meetings between himself and Bieker dating to November 2005 in which managerial problems were discussed.

“After some meetings, I could see improvement, but gradually that improvement declined and in some cases became worse,” Sicard said.

During the 45-minute discussion in the packed meeting room, four residents spoke. Two of them specifically called for Bieker’s reinstatement as chief. Don Farina said he started a petition to that effect and had collected more than 300 signatures.

“We’d like to have our chief back and reinstated tonight,” Farina said.

Farina questioned Bieker’s published accusation that Sicard told the former chief to cite stress or family as reasons for his resignation.

Sicard responded by saying he suggested the idea to Bieker in an attempt to allow him to resign on his own terms and with honor, but never dictated how it should be done.

“That would have given us a chance to honor him for what he did as chief, but not the way he’s gone about and done it,” Sicard said after the meeting. “I didn’t want to ridicule him or anything. I gave him my word that there were certain things I wouldn’t bring up because they are private personnel matters, and I’ve held to that word. What I brought up today was just a response to (Bieker’s) questions.”

The council members indicated they all consider Bieker a personal friend and are saddened and upset by how the situation has played out.

“He is a wonderful officer,” Johnson said. “He does deal great with people ... but he is not a good manager.”

Bieker, who did not attend the meeting, said this morning he is “stunned” by the council members’ statements, saying they “chose not to understand” the circumstances he faced.

Bieker said officers made complaints to Steczyk or the council members without first telling him of their concerns, and then denied they had made complaints.

“I can’t respond to something that’s done around me,” he said. “I disagree with (Steczyk’s and the council’s) decision to entertain them and allow them to do that without addressing their concerns with me first.”

Bieker confirmed he hasn’t worked since the May 14 council meeting and has used accrued sick time, which he said was to allow the other officers a chance to prove themselves to the council without him around as they vie for the chief’s spot. He said he intends to return to work next Wednesday.

The town has received six applications for the position of chief, one from each of the four remaining Ferdinand officers, according to Sicard. One is from a Louisiana man who graduated from Forest Park High School and the sixth is from a former Virginia resident now living in Jasper. While those applications are being reviewed, Lt. Rob Randle remains the interim chief as appointed during the May meeting.

Contact Alexandra Sondeen at asondeen@dcherald.com.




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