Sullivan remains on administrative leave
By John Faucher
Nearly two weeks after Hortonville Police Chief Michael Sullivan was placed on paid administrative leave, more than 100 supporters showed up to a village board meeting in support of him.
Sullivan has a 26-year career in law enforcement and has served as Hortonville’s police chief for 14 years.
At the Thursday, Nov. 3 meeting, village board members and administration said they were unable to respond to preregistered citizens to be heard because the particular topic they spoke on was not posted in advance on the agenda.
Board members listened to approximately 10 audience members who spoke on behalf of the large group assembled. Dozens filled the chairs and more yet stood packed in the sides and back of the meeting room.
In a statement issued Friday, Nov. 4, Village Administrator Diane Wessel said, “It is not appropriate to discuss or share specifics regarding a personnel investigation. Therefore, the Village of Hortonville staff and Board of Trustees will not provide personnel information.”
The board held a closed session regarding the personnel matter prior to its 6:30 p.m. regular board meeting.
“We can indicate that the Village is in the process of investigating certain complaints made to the Village and pursuant to its obligation, it is doing that investigation,” said Wessel.
The village administrator, at the advice of legal counsel and direction of the board of trustees, placed Sullivan on paid administrative leave Oc. 21.
Wessel said, “Administrative leave is not disciplinary and is utilized to protect the employee involved as well as the integrity of the investigation.”
She also noted that, “While Chief Sullivan is on administrative leave, he continues to be available for phone calls during normal working hours, checks his voicemail and email on a daily basis, and if requested, is available to perform the duties of his position.”
Wessel said the police department is operating under the structure that has been in place with a sergeant and officers. The village is continuing 24/7 police protection. The department has assistance from Outagamie County and other agencies if necessary.
Several supporters of Sullivan voiced their concerns at the meeting about a perceived lack of knowledge by the Police and Fire Commission on the matter at the time Sullivan was placed on leave.
The statement issued Friday by the village sought to clarify that process.
“For communities that have a Police & Fire Commission, as Hortonville does, certain discipline is not determined by the administration or the Village Board,” the statement said.
“Under the law, only Police & Fire Commission can discipline or terminate a police chief. The Village Board of Trustees only has the authority to place a Police Chief on administrative leave and authorize an investigation. If the board authorizes an investigation, an investigation commences and if sufficient information exists to warrant a hearing, a hearing is held before that Police & Fire Commission. That hearing by law is open to the public. After the hearing, the Police & Fire Commission determines what if any discipline shall apply.”
Wessel added, “All employees, including the Chief, have been directed not to discuss the investigation so as to preserve the integrity of the investigation. We would ask your assistance in respecting that directive.”
Supporters at Thursday’s meeting spoke mainly of Sullivan’s character.
Nick Knuth, a resident and volunteer firefighter with Sullivan, presented a petition to the board with more than 100 signatures supporting Sullivan. He said that the signatures were collected in less than two days, and that more would be forthcoming.
Hortonville/Hortonia Fire Chief Dave Dorn addressed the board.
“I just want to say I’ve worked with Chief Sullivan as a department head in the community and as a firefighter also,” Dorn said. “His character has never been questioned and I hope the decisions made here about his future are not biased, and not somebody’s vendettas, and everything is done properly.”
Dorn also told the board that he hoped the village would not make any of the same mistakes that have happened in the past (personnel matters).
Several others spoke on behalf of Sullivan’s character and his accomplishments while leading the Hortonville Police Department.
Sullivan’s wife Robin delivered a short but emotional message to the board.
“I would just like to state that my husband had dedicated 26 years of his life to law enforcement, 14 of which is for the village of Hortonville,” Robin Sullivan said. “I’ve seen him dedicate time to this village, support obtaining grants, for the tornado disasters, public safety. He is just always there when he can be and now his integrity is being questioned.
“Anybody who knows him and obviously the outpouring of support that showed up here tonight would not question his integrity,” she said. “I’m damn proud to be his wife.”
She then thanked the supporters for coming to the meeting and as she returned from the podium, the room filled with applause.
Tom Banker spoke next.
“We’ve been very fortunate to have a man like Sully,” Banker said. “Not only does he take his job seriously, he is fair, hard working and he is very honest. He takes ownership of everything that goes on in this village.”
“He is there when we want him, you can count on him, and he has your back. Those kind of people need to be in those types of positions,” he added.
Banker also reminded the board of the 40-year history of the village police department and noted the progress of the past 14 years with Sullivan.
“We should be very thankful we have a person like that with us,” said Banker.
Sullivan, who did not address the board, spoke with supporters and media after the meeting.
He said he felt he was being treated unfairly and that he was thankful for the many folks who are supporting him. Sullivan said being placed on leave, he has received an abundance of support from both law enforcement professionals and citizens.