Falls council takes step to fire chief

NEWTON FALLS – Village council has taken the first step in removing Police Chief John Kuivila, after investigations were made into statements accusing him of sexually harassing a female police employee.

“I’d like to make a motion that the city council begin removal of the police chief for discipline reasons,” said Trustee Nancy Hoffman at the council’s Monday meeting, “and that they invoke Section 11 Part D of his contract and begin the pre-disciplinary hearing process.”

The motion was passed unanimously and met by applause from the audience of a dozen or so people. The motion followed a 40- minute executive session to discuss disciplinary action for Kuivila, up to and including termination.

At the council’s previous meeting, members reconvened from an executive session to pass a motion to explore the steps for disciplining Kuivila, up to and including termination. This was a result of an investigation made by Village Manager Jack Haney and Law Director Joseph Fritz. The two looked into complaints made against Kuivila by a female employee at the police station.

In a hand-written note, dated Jan. 11, the woman said, ” I have started feeling uncomfortable in my current work position … in the police department. When I returned from maternity leave I noticed I was getting comments made to me from the police chief John Kuivila. I felt after a period of time the comments referencing my appearance and certain body parts were becoming extremely inappropriate for him being my supervisor.”

The woman writes that she requested that Kuivila stop and that she later received an angry phone call from Kuivila’s wife regarding a letter about his feelings toward her.

A second note was turned in to Haney by another female employee stating that Kuivila threatened her if she made any comments on the alleged sexual harassment.

These notes have also been turned into Kuivila’s attorney Kim Kendall, to whom Kuivila is referring all questions. Kendall said she was surprised by the motion made by council because the claims have not been substantiated.

“They won’t tell what the claims are based on,” Kendall said.

She maintains that Kuivila has been falsely accused and that Kuivila and the female employee maintained a friendly correspondence that was often initiated by the woman. According to Kendall, both parties maintain that the relationship was not amorous and the woman never complained until Kuivila’s wife became privy of the text, phone and email correspondence.

In a statement to Haney, Kuivila said he has corresponded with the woman but does not admit any wrong doing, claiming his fifth amendment rights to not incriminate himself.

According to Kuivila’s contract, which he entered into on Sept. 21, 2009 and which is binding until Sept. 20, 2014, if the council chooses to remove him they must follow certain steps.

“The removal process is based upon his contract,” said Fritz, “We’re taking every step to keep his contract valid and every step to be sure we are following the rules of the contract to the benefit both the city and Chief Kuivila”

After bringing the complaint – via the handwritten notes – to Kuivila and Kendall, the contract entitles Kuivila to a pre-disciplinary hearing with a mutually agreed upon third party mediator.

Following the hearing and confirmation of allegations, the chief may be removed from office. Even after this step the chief is entitled to a “Just Cause” arbitration by an approved member of the American Academy of Arbitrators.

Until they receive a notice of the pre-disciplinary hearing and evidence, Kendall said she and Kuivila remain in a “reactionary position.” She said they are still uncertain of the actual complaint since the correspondence according to her does not qualify as sexual harassment or create a hostile work environment.

“I am confident an arbitrator will put him back to work immediately,” said Kendall.

Kuivila will continue to keep his position, as Haney has not asked him to resign, and according to Haney is expected to be at work today.