Police chief steps down amid conflict with council

Herald Staff Writer

FERDINAND — Ferdinand Police Chief Ted Bieker will step down as chief at the end of the day Thursday.


Bieker read a four-page letter (BiekerLetter.pdf) to the town council during its regular monthly meeting Tuesday night regarding his decision. The 24-year veteran who was appointed chief in April 2004 by the council will remain on the force as a patrol officer and will return to his former rank of captain.

The council appointed Lt. Rob Randle, second in command for the department, as the interim chief beginning Friday.

Bieker, 54, noted ongoing tension between himself and the council and Town Manager Marc Steczyk, saying he has felt “micromanaged” after the creation of the town manager position and Steczyk’s hiring in 2007.

“I have not been allowed to be the chief in any real sense for some time now,” he said. “I have had my authority taken away little by little, but I am still expected to perform as leader to the police department. ... I have felt that I am being phased out for quite some time now. I feel, for the most part, disrespected.”

Steczyk oversees all six of the town’s superintendents and reports directly to the council.
“Any type of perceived micromanaging that’s being referred to was at the direction of (the) council,” Steczyk said. “They determine the policy and I administer it. That’s my job.”

The chief described issues within the department, particularly with regard to overtime hours, competitive pay and what he thinks is a lack of support from the three-member council. Bieker said the department is expected to restrict overtime hours but has difficulty doing so because of limited resources. He noted that several officers from the department have left for other area law enforcement departments because of better pay and benefits. He said he has spoken with council members and Steczyk on numerous occasions to address the issues and present ideas but said he thinks the problems are still unresolved.

“It has become apparent to me that without the full support of the board, I cannot perform my duties effectively and that we have different ideas as to how things within the police department should be managed,” he wrote toward the end of his letter.

The council refuted Bieker’s suggestion that the council and Steczyk have not supported him by working to resolve issues like overtime and competitive pay. A sixth full-time officer was added in 2009, and Council President Ken Sicard said the council has worked hard over the years to increase wages, particularly within the police department. He noted declining revenues and other restrictions have prevented the town from doing as much as it would have liked.

Bieker and his management of the police department were discussed during an executive session of the council April 22, Sicard said.

Bieker met with each of the council members individually last week and said he was asked by each of them to step down.

“The end result was that they believed that I should turn in a letter advising that I was stepping away from the position of chief,” he said. “I acknowledge and understand that the board can replace the chief of police as they wish. In my conversations with the board members, as of late, they advised me that there was no wrongdoing on my part but that a change of leadership will help them change the direction of the department.”

Two residents spoke in support of Bieker and criticized the council for how it has handled the situation.

Don Farina said if council members want to micromanage the department, they should try doing the job themselves.

“You guys are willing to snatch the rug out from underneath this guy and tell him that he’s not good enough to do it,” Farina told the council. “It’s not right. I would ask that you reconsider. The only thing that’s holding him back is the town board and the town manager.”

Larry Hilgeman, a member of the council when Bieker was appointed, questioned how asking Bieker to step down will affect the department in terms of providing consistency and a sense that an officer can work his way up in the department as Bieker did.

“It gives the appearance to these guys of, why would I want to work and plant these roots and be dedicated to a town if, barring any major disciplinary issue, that can just be removed from me?” Hilgeman said.

Steczyk confirmed this morning that Bieker has never been disciplined or reprimanded in his nine-year tenure as chief.

After the meeting, council members confirmed they had asked Bieker to step down. Sicard said he started discussing problems with Bieker in February and has talked to each of the five full-time officers in the department about how it operates. A sixth officer position is vacant.

Three of the department’s full-time officers were at Tuesday’s council meeting but did not speak.
“Ted did take us to a new level,” Sicard said. “He’s done some great things for the town. But there were some areas we’ve had trouble with and we’ve worked with him for some time trying to get those straightened out.”

Town officials said they are glad Bieker will stay on as an officer.

“I have great respect for Ted,” Steczyk said. “We have a couple of employees who are really, really good with the public and Ted is one of those. ... He’s a good officer. That’s not in question.”
Councilman Ron Weyer commented, “I expect that when Ted goes back as a patrolman that he’ll perform his duties just as well as he always had.”

The council is open to hiring a permanent chief from outside the department.

“Sometimes it’s good to look at it with fresh eyes and that’s something we want to think about,” Councilwoman Debbie Johnson said.

Contact Alexandra Sondeen at asondeen@dcherald.com.

More on DuboisCountyHerald.com