by Sarah Squires
Earlier this month, St. Charles Police Chief William Eckles abruptly resigned immediately following his performance review, which was conducted during a St. Charles City Council meeting that was closed to the public.
The council accepted his resignation and approved a separation agreement in which the city will pay Eckles more than $34,000 in salary and benefits.
According to the separation agreement, Eckles is entitled to his regular salary through March 30, 2013, as well as city-paid health insurance premiums and health savings account (HSA) contributions for all of 2013. The health insurance premiums and HSA contributions total approximately $14,000, and the total salary amount paid following his resignation is just under $20,000.
Little information was given about the resignation following the performance review. Eckles, who had been chief since 2004, was replaced by St. Charles Police Officer Chris Lennon, who will serve as interim chief until a full-time replacement is chosen.
The Winona Post requested all public information from Eckles' personnel file, and discovered that several complaints against him were deemed private information because they did not result in disciplinary action. One complaint in 2010, however, was released in part to the Winona Post, as required by law, since the complaint resulted in disciplinary action.
The complaint referenced several issues, including a lack of formal training for officers and little or no budgetary oversight of police expenditures, and suggested that several part-time officers may have performed police duties before being sworn in or trained. Additionally, because of scheduling problems and because Eckles did not utilize part-time staff to cover open shifts for a period of time, the complaint documents indicate that the department had exceeded overtime budgets, and that Eckles was not monitoring departmental expenditures.
In October 2009, the St. Charles City Council considered a request for two part-time officers because of difficulty in filling open shifts. The council approved hiring two officers in February of that year, but by September, 2010—when the complaint was filed—neither part-time officer had been sworn in.
The Winona Post reviewed the text of an interview with Eckles from September 2010. The document included typed questions for Eckles along with notes taken by St. Charles Administrator Nick Koverman that detailed Eckles’ responses. A “Notice of Verbal Reprimand” was also released to the Winona Post.
The notice indicated that the department utilized the Winona County Sheriff’s Department training manual as a guide, but that no formal training program existed within the St. Charles Police Department.
Eckles was asked whether the new officers had started working before being sworn in, and, if so, when. Koverman’s notes indicate Eckles cited several events—Gladiolus Days, Winona County Fair, and another entry which was redacted—during which officers may have worked without being sworn in. Koverman questioned in his notes whether this might pose a liability for the city.
When asked if all shifts were filled between the time the part-time officers were hired and the date of the interview, Koverman’s notes indicate that there were “a lot of open shifts.” Eckles, according to Koverman’s notes, said that issues that prevented or delayed those officers from being trained included “scheduling physical/medical.”
The 2010 complaint for which Eckles was disciplined included questions about whether the police department budget was properly monitored at a time when the department was exceeding its overtime budget and the part-time officers were not yet being used, so as to reduce the need for overtime expenses.
“As a department head you are responsible for your budget. Can you tell me how you manage your budget?” read one of the questions posed to Eckles during the 2010 interview. “Not very well. Do not review monthly,” read Eckles’ response as written in Koverman’s notes. Several questions were answered with a simple “no” reply from Eckles, including “Can you currently tell me where your overtime budget stands?” and “Why did you feel the need to use the overtime budget as opposed to the part-time employees?”
When asked which factors may have impeded his ability to perform his role as a department head, Eckles said, according to Koverman’s notes, that he didn’t have time to do administrative work because of case loads.
According to the audit report for 2010, police salaries were $15,793 over budget by the end of the year, and $6,926 was paid above the budgeted amount for police benefits. In 2011, police salaries were $20,000 over budget, according to the audit, and in 2009, salaries and benefits for officers were more than $15,000 over budgeted expenses.
High school Breathalyzers
The St. Charles Police Department came under scrutiny by several parents of high school students who were subjected to alcohol tests during a graduation rehearsal in June, 2012.
More than 70 students were given Breathalyzer tests after faculty noticed instances of unusual behavior from a number of students at the event.
When information was requested from Winona County Attorney Karin Sonneman about an investigation into the incident, she said the data was not public because the investigation was ongoing.
Eckles did not return a phone call for comment for this story.