Ex-police chief to get $130,000 as part of settlement

PAXTON — The Paxton City Council approved a settlement agreement Monday night to put an end to a lawsuit brought against the city by former police chief Bob Bane.

Urbana attorney Ron Langacker filed the eight-count lawsuit in January in U.S. District Court in Urbana on behalf of Bane, alleging 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.

As part of the settlement agreement, which was approved during Monday’s special meeting via an 8-0 vote, Bane will receive a $130,000 payment. The city will pay $65,000 of that amount, with the city’s insurer, the Illinois Municipal League Risk Management Association, paying the other half.

The city also has agreed to allow Bane to remain on the city’s COBRA medical insurance plan.

Also, the city has agreed to rescind its Aug. 29, 2017, termination of Bane’s employment and instead accept Bane’s resignation as of that date, allowing him to retire in “good standing.” If the Illinois Department of Employment Security decides to seek reimbursement of unemployment benefits paid to Bane, it will be Bane’s obligation, not the city’s, to satisfy such repayment, the agreement says.

Bane has also agreed not to “seek or accept any position affiliated with the city of Paxton, whether it be by employment, appointment or election.”

Also as part of the agreement, the city’s elected officials and employees have agreed “not to disparage” Bane “in any manner whatsoever” as it relates to his employment. Meanwhile, Bane has agreed to do the same in regards to the service of those elected officials and employees as it relates to the circumstances surrounding his firing.

The settlement also prohibits Bane from bringing any further litigation against the city in connection with his firing.

Bane said Tuesday that he was not permitted to comment on the lawsuit, per the conditions of the settlement. Attempts to contact Bane’s attorney were not immediately successful.

City Attorney Marc Miller advised aldermen not to publicly discuss the lawsuit or settlement, since it was an “employment matter.”

“The mayor has the same instructions about not being able to comment on it,” Miller told aldermen. “But he does have a public statement that he’ll make so that there is an official statement from the municipality.”

The mayor later read the prepared statement following the council’s vote.

“Neither side is admitting fault, and both sides are simply making an economic decision to put this unpleasant chapter behind them,” said Ingold, who, along with all eight alderman, was named a defendant in the lawsuit.

“Litigation is an expensive, lengthy process with no guaranteed outcomes,” Ingold continued. “The city believes that this settlement removes that uncertainty and allows the city to look forward, not backward.

“The city is pleased with the quick resolution to this claim. The city is confident that it and its police department are on the right track and that the police department is in capable hands under (current) Chief Coy Cornett.”

Alderman Bill Wylie, chairman of the council’s finance committee, said that between the settlement and unrelated costs associated with tearing down dilapidated homes in town, the city will need to adjust its budget accordingly to reflect those additional expenditures, which he said will exceed $100,000 combined.

However, Wylie said he was confident the city would still not need to spend any of its reserves and might still be able to add to its reserves by the end of the fiscal year in April 2019.

The council asked that Wylie and Comptroller/Treasurer Tammy Jensen decide where exactly in the budget the settlement payment will come from.

All aldermen voted in favor of accepting the settlement, with H.J. Flesner noting that his “yes” vote was made “very grudgingly.”

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, seemed 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, Bane’s attorney 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, among other requirements.

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