City may settle lawsuit filed by former police chief next week

PAXTON — A settlement is being negotiated between the city and its former police chief to resolve a lawsuit alleging he was fired illegally.

The agenda for a special meeting of the Paxton City Council to be held at 6 p.m. Monday, July 2, lists for possible approval a resolution authorizing the settlement and the release of all claims in the lawsuit.

Urbana attorney Ron Langacker, who filed the eight-count lawsuit in January in U.S. District Court in Urbana on behalf of former Paxton police chief Bob Bane, confirmed Tuesday that a settlement was being negotiated. Langacker declined to discuss specifics of the proposed settlement.

“We’re in the process of trying to reach a negotiated disposition in this matter,” Langacker told the Ford County Record. “We’ll see what happens.”

The council last discussed the lawsuit in closed session during its June 12 meeting.

The civil complaint alleges that Bane was fired illegally by Mayor Bill Ingold last summer in retaliation for taking the city to court for overtime pay he believed he was owed.

Ingold, along with all eight aldermen, were named as defendants in the complaint.

The mayor never publicly disclosed why he fired Bane, who had been the city’s police chief since May 2006, saying only that “it was clear a change in leadership was needed.” The timing of the firing, however, seems to indicate that it may be linked to Bane taking the city, its mayor and its comptroller/treasurer to court over years of unpaid overtime compensation, Langacker said last January.

The lawsuit alleged that the termination of Bane’s employment violated the Illinois Wage and Hour Act, which prohibits employers from retaliating against an employee for complaining to the employer about unpaid wages. The lawsuit also alleged the city violated the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Illinois Whistleblower Act and the Illinois State Official and Employee Ethics Act by firing Bane as it did.

The lawsuit also alleged that the city violated its own ordinances by firing Bane without giving him written notice of the reasons he was being fired. The city also allegedly violated Bane’s constitutional rights by never providing him a pre- or post-termination hearing, the lawsuit said.

Bane’s suit sought the awarding of damages sufficient to compensate him for any economic losses suffered; attorney fees and costs incurred in filing the complaint; and punitive damages. Also sought are an injunction against the city to “refrain from engaging in any actions with respect to the plaintiff which are prohibited under the terms of the foregoing laws” and an injunction directing the city to reinstate Bane to his former position of employment.

Other business
Also during the July 2 special meeting, to be held in the council chambers on the second floor of City Hall, 145 S. Market St.:

➜ The council will consider a proposal to limit public comments to five minutes per person during the council’s meetings.

➜ The council will consider the approval of a prevailing wage ordinance.

➜ The council will consider the approval of an ordinance and/or contract providing for the sale of the Paxton Municipal Airport.

Committee meeting slated
The council’s public safety committee also plans to meet next week, with a meeting of the committee scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday, July 5, at City Hall to discuss a potential “burning ban” ordinance.

If enough interest exists to create such an ordinance, the council plans to vote on it during the council’s July 10 meeting.

When asked earlier this month for specifics on what the proposed ordinance would restrict, Mike Wilson, the committee’s chairman, declined to say. The existing burning ordinance restricts residents from burning trash, but the burning of tree limbs and leaves is permitted.

Wilson said he does not anticipate banning recreational fires.

“I cannot imagine a scenario where we would ban the burning of recreational fires,” Wilson said, “and, personally, I see no reason to ban smaller recreational fires.”
 

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