Under an agreement approved by the Princeton Council tonight but questioned by some members of the community, Police Chief David Dudeck will remain out on leave until Oct. 1 and then retire.
He could be out on sick leave the entire time. If he is cleared by a doctor to return to work, he could either use the time he has saved up or go out on unpaid leave, Administrator Robert Bruschi said.
Dudeck has accrued 788.5 hours of holiday, vacation, personal, and terminal leave that he can cash out when he retires. That time equals about 20 weeks of work worth more than $63,000.
As part of the settlement with Dudeck, the police union has agreed to withdraw all allegations against him, and the County Prosecutor will not investigate charges previously made by the union. Both Dudeck and the town are barred form any future litigation regarding his employment, and Dudeck is forbidden from discussing the agreement. Dudeck has seven days from signing the contract to change his mind about retiring. He signed the contract April 13.
“This agreement allows for an orderly retirement,” Bruschi said. “It provides for no more benefits than would be provided under a normal retirement it just allows for it in a structured way.”
The Council voted 5-1 to approve the agreement, with Councilwoman Jo Butler casting the lone vote against it. Photocopies of the agreement were handed out to the public and press right before the Council formally voted on it in public, after the closed portion of the meeting.
Council members who supported the deal all praised Dudeck’s record and said their hands were tied in terms of discussing specifics of his case.
“The last two months there has been a lot of misinformation, disinformation, and innuendo that the community has been subjected to,” Councilman Bernie Miller said. ” By their very nature, personnel issues can’t be as transparent as we’d like them to be. I think today we hope to close the book on this chapter…There is the will and intent on the part of council to look at what led us to this point and try to get a better understanding of how to improve the department and communication. I hope we learn from this experience.”
Councilwoman Jenny Crumiller said she would have preferred an investigation, but agreed to the settlement in deference to the chief and the department.
Councilwoman Heather Howard, who serves as the police commissioner for the town, said she was glad the agreement achieved three goals: protecting the community from future legal liability, recognizing Dudeck’s 30 years of service, and successfully transitioning the police department.
“The agreement provides everyone involved with the ability to move on,” Mayor Liz Lempert said.
“Life goes on,” Councilman Lance Liverman said.
`A Sad Day for Princeton’
Councilwoman Jo Butler said her conscience would not allow her to vote for the agreement, even though she has been under pressure by her colleagues to approve it.
“This is a sad day for Princeton and a sad day for me personally. I said on January 1st that I thought we had the right man for the job in Chief Dudeck. I stand by what I said,” Butler said. “I think Dave is an honest, honorable and brave man. He is a man who has served our community admirably for nearly 30 years, with an impeccable record. Let me repeat that: an impeccable record.”
Butler praised Dudeck’s dedication to the police force, his concern for the safety of this community, his commitment to the success of consolidation, and his leadership during Hurricane Sandy.
“There was one area where Dave and I disagreed, and it appears, quite unfortunately, that I was right,” Butler said. “Dave saw my frustration with some of the challenges of consolidation, but being an optimist, he would encourage me to hang in there. `It will all work out. You’ll see,’ he said. Dave was not afraid to make the difficult choices that needed to be made for the long-term good of our community. I always appreciated Dave’s willingness to have honest and frank discussions. Dave is a not BS kind of guy, and you could count on Dave to speak the truth to power. We cannot crow about the success of consolidation without giving the credit due to the leadership of our most critical function – the police.”
“In honor of Dave, let me be perfectly clear if it is not clear from this agreement: there was a calculation made that any allegations against Dave would result in his retirement. The stakes for his family are just too great. It is a disgrace, not to Dave, but to our community. To anyone who might perceive this to be some sort of victory, let me caution you. It is not. Our community is diminished by the retirement of Dave Dudeck,” Butler said. “I have been under pressure to approve this resolution. It would be convenient to have a unanimous decision, but I am sorry I can’t deliver that. I recognize that my colleagues and I are in a difficult situation, but I cannot claim that there were no choices, that this was the only possible outcome – or even the best possible outcome. I don’t believe that, and therefore I can’t support this.”
In his prepared statement about the agreement, Bruschi said the administration has reached out to have an expert assess the police department and look at the leadership structure and ways to improve communication in the department. He said Dudeck was required to make a lot of decisions over the last 18 months.
“Some of those were easy and others were much more challenging, but all of them made with the best interest of the department and the residents,” Bruschi said. “He made all of those decisions with a careful and even hand. He never made a decision that he thought would be counter to his goal of having the finest police department and one that would make everyone proud. We as an organization are going to benefit greatly from those decisions. He has put into place a very strong organization that is bolstered by strong leadership. That leadership has served us extremely well over the past couple of months and will continue to do so in the foreseeable future. David will be missed but more importantly he must be appreciated for all that he accomplished in his 30 years. I and the members of the staff, who have worked with Dave wish him nothing but the best in his retirement.”
`More Than Meets the Eye’
Several former Borough officials and a handful of Princeton residents spoke during public comment at the beginning of the meeting, calling for transparency and voicing support for Dudeck.
“I find it hard to believe that this situation, this incident, has led us to where we are today at this moment in time,” former Princeton Borough Mayor Mildred Trotman said. “I had the distinct pleasure of working with Dave for 27 years. His service was stellar. I, like many members of community, have only high praise for his leadership throughout those 30 years. This really is most unfortunate. To me t is particularly troubling that at the end of his time in Princeton, after all the positive years of service he has given, he is being remembered in this fashion. His reputation is being scarred. It is most unfortunate for Princeton.”
Former Borough Councilwoman Barbara Trelstad questioned the timing of the allegations against Dudeck so soon after consolidation.
“Why now?” Trelstad said. “The timing suggests outside forces influenced events. It is a well known fact that many members of the former Township Police Department were not in favor of consolidation, and that there was tension between the police union and management…Now this process has besmirched the reputation of an honorable man. You need to establish protocol to prevent this from occurring in the future.”
Former Borough Councilman Kevin Wilkes characterized the dynamics of consolidation as “a collision” when it came to the police department. “It’s been a very difficult run putting our two forces together,” he said. “In the course of managing consolidation, the chief has had to make some difficult decisions, reassign people to different duties, and create new schedules.”
Wilkes said in the Borough, Dudeck rotated officers through different jobs so they gained experience in every area, and also rotated schedules. In the Township, the police union was allowed to determine the schedules for Township officers. Wilkes said the issue of allowing the union to decide officer schedules is one of the sticking points of the police contract that is currently being negotiated, and Dudeck opposed letting the union determine officer schedules.
“The chief had to reassign assets like vehicles and weapons,” Wilkes said. “There were also 13 sergeants for eight sergeant posts. Five requested buyouts and that idea was rejected. There was significant unhappiness in the sergeant ranks because of this issue. The police chief also had to implement new procedures, and there was the delicate dilemma of 911 calls and Princeton University.”
Wilkes called on the Council to stand behind Dudeck, investigate the allegations against him, and respond accordingly.
Former Borough Councilman Roger Martindell urged the Council not to sweep the matter under the rug, to investigate the allegations, and hold Dudeck accountable if the charges are real.
“Break the historical cycle of dealing with the perceived offenders by having them retire,” he said. “If you choose not to investigate, you will condemn our police department to continued internal strife, political squabbles and dysfunction. What will the next chief do if you do not stop the pattern of dysfunction? This has been allowed to fester for too long.”
Martindell questioned who governs the police in Princeton: “It is the largest and most expensive arm of government. Is it you or a cadre of disaffected members of the police department who pull the strings on which you allow yourself to hang as puppets?”
Resident Peter Marks said the comments from Trotman and the other Borough officials made him proud.
“The only thing the public knows about the matter is the charge of locker room language,” Marks said. “That to me is a nonsense charge. I defy anyone in the room to tell me they are not guilty of locker room language at some occasion. To ruin someones reputation over something like that is despicable.”
Resident Jerome McGowan of Redding Circle said Dudeck listened to feedback about making the department more diverse, was open minded, and responsive to community concerns.
“I found Chief Dudeck to be honorable. He worked with us in the community, and things changed,” McGowan said. “I’m shocked at this situation. I’m really taken aback. I feel more is going on here than meets the eye. I’m very upset. I was born and raised here. The two departments never liked each other. With consolidation they were all lumped together. I question the timing of this. Why didn’t people say anything before now? We’re talking 29 years. Why wait to speak up? And why tarnish a reputation while you are in hiding? Why convict man in the media when there has been no trial? I’m ashamed of the new Princeton.”
Resident Minnie Craig called the situation unfortunate and questioned what other choice Dudeck had but to resign.
“What else could be done at this point?” Craig said. “I would love to see this all turned around so he can stay. But once you’ve been put through the mill, would you even want to come back? It’s so unfortunate. I wish him well as he goes on with his life.”