Ryan Vossekuil, the interim Chief of Police in Mayville, recently rejected a contract offer that would have made him head of the department on a permanent basis, but it wasn’t because he didn’t want the job.
The contract offered to him was rife with terms and conditions that could have left the 35-year-old Captain exposed to early termination and loss of benefits built up over a 15 year career with the department.
He even faced forfeiture of rights expressly extended to police officers in Wisconsin State Statute 62.13, commonly referred to at the Police Officer’s Bill of Rights.
The problems date back to February of 2017, when the Wisconsin Department of Justice Division of Criminal Investigation served a search warrant on the city of Mayville and its Police Department, as part of an investigation into then-Chief Christopher MacNeill.
Two days later, MacNeill was placed on administrative leave by Mayor Rob Boelk, pending the outcome of the DCI’s investigation – a move that Boelk maintains was well within his legal power as mayor.
“If the Chief is suspended without pay or fired, that move has to come from the Police and Fire Commission,” Boelk said.
“But the mayor has the authority to place a chief on administrative leave, and that’s what I did.”
MacNeill eventually resigned as chief, and has since been charged with felony Misconduct in Office and misdemeanor Obstruction of an Officer.
Once MacNeill resigned, Vossekuil was named as interim chief of the department.
In June of 2017, when MacNeill was charged by the DOJ, Boelk did an interview with The Great 98 in which he stated he hoped the Police and Fire Commission would “do the right thing and hire [the next chief] from outside the department.”
When asked for comment, Vossekuil responded via email, with a written statement which read:
“The Mayville Police Department is staffed by seven full-time officers, four part-time officers and two administrative assistants. We provide 24/7 protection and service to the City of Mayville. None of our current employees have been accused of wrongdoing with respect to the investigation by the Attorney General’s Office. I have complete confidence in my staff and am proud to work with each one of them. The Mayville Police Department is comprised of dedicated, community-minded officers that are focused on their daily work and moving the department forward. The city is safe and we will continue to work hard to maintain our relationship with the community.”
Shortly thereafter, according to an internal memo sent from the mayor’s office, Vossekuil was reprimanded for violating a media gag order which was implemented by Mayor Boelk.
The memo, dated 7/10/17, states that on June 22nd, “Mayor Boelk interviewed Mr. Vossekuil about giving a statement to The Great 98 and Alex Crow (sic). Mr. Vossekuil admitted sending a statement via email explaining the Mayville Police Department current situation. When Mr. Boelk asked why Mr. Vossekuil sent the email, Mr. Vossekuil said ‘Nobody is going to jeopardize the moral of my police department.’ (sic)
At this time you are receiving a written warning for failure to obey an order, managers expectations and being insubordinate. The City hopes you can correct your behavior or face additional discipline actions including a formal complaint with the Police and Fire Commission.”
This reprimand did not sit well with multiple members of the city’s Police and Fire Commission (PFC), who stated that the city’s police chief should be able to talk with the media, and that nobody should be able to place a gag order on the chief.
Multiple PFC members also stated that they believed the PFC had the authority to discipline the chief, not the mayor.
Fast forward to August of 2017, when the Police and Fire Commission, after conducting multiple interviews with candidates, chose to hire Vossekuil as the new chief of police, removing the interim tag from his title.
Vossekuil indicated he was interested in the job, leaving only an agreement on salary left to be negotiated.
Vossekuil says what came next caught him completely off-guard.
A contract was written, dated the 28th of August, which contained a number of provisions that Vossekuil would have to agree to if he wanted to sign on as the city’s chief of police.
Two days later, Vossekuil sent a letter to Mayor Boelk and the Common Council, outlining the terms he had problems with.
Some of those terms included:
- Vossekuil would be placed on a “probationary period,” which would last for a period of 12 months.
- While under this probationary period, Vossekuil could be “removed, disciplined, demoted and/or suspended without just cause and the procedural requirements of Wisconsin Statutes Section 62.13 shall not apply.” Basically, Vossekuil would have to set aside protections expressly outlined to police officers in the Wisconsin State Statute.
- If removed from office for any reason, the contract would terminate, and Vossekuil would lose the benefits he had built up over the last 15 years.
- Vossekuil would need to give 90 days written notice if he wanted to resign for any reason during the life of the contract. If he did not give 90 days notice, he would forfeit all benefits he had built up over the last 15 years with the department.
Based off these terms and conditions, Vossekuil ended the letter by rejecting the offer.
The following week, Vossekuil and Mayor Boelk exchanged emails back and forth, in which Boelk asked Vossekuil if he would accept the contract if certain items were removed. Boelk said he was not able to remove the items himself, but he would bring the idea up to the Common Council to see if the members would consider it.
Vossekuil said he would needed to see a new contract in writing, without the terms included, in order to go over it with his attorney and consider whether or not he would accept the offer.
Boelk advised he would speak with the Council and see what they thought.
According to multiple members of the Council, Mayor Boelk showed them the email exchange between himself and Vossekuil.
After debating behind closed doors, the Council emerged with a 6-0 unanimous vote accepting Vossekuil’s rejection and directing the mayor to send a letter to the Police and Fire Commission, asking them to begin considering other candidates for the job.
When asked why the Council didn’t draft a new contract with the provisions removed, Alderman Gene Frings said the city was ready to move on from the contentious negotiations with Vossekuil and find someone else.
“We weren’t going to send offers back and forth and wait weeks to see how it turned out,” Frings said.
“He was unhappy with the proposal, so we decided unanimously to accept his rejection and move on.”
Alderman Bob Smith seemed to echo those sentiments.
“He rejected the proposal,” Smith exclaimed. “What were we supposed to do?? His letter did not say ‘remove the provisions and we’ll talk.’ It simply said ‘The employment agreement is rejected.’ So we decided to move on.”
But at least one anonymous alderperson felt that Vossekuil was not given a fair shake.
On August 31st, Vossekuil sent a letter to Mayor Boelk about a potential conflict of interest on the Council.
In the letter, Vossekuil writes that he was approached by an anonymous member of the Council, who told him that a different Council member had a “personal vendetta against me and the Mayville Police Department.”
Vossekuil revealed that he was chosen to lead an investigation into a member of the Mayville Police Department in 2016, which ultimately resulted in the resignation of the officer.
That former officer is married to a current member of the Council, who has been voting on matters pertaining to Vossekuil and the Mayville Police Department, which he considered to be a clear conflict of interest.
According to Wisconsin State Statutes, if a person has a conflict of interest, they are supposed to abstain from voting on matters where the conflict may arise.
But only the person with the conflict of interest can remove themselves from voting. Meaning, someone else cannot force that person to abstain from voting on any matter.
Vossekuil wrote that the alderperson had a conflict of interest that required “immediate disclosure,” but so far that alderperson has not removed themselves from voting on matters involving Vossekuil or the Mayville Police Department.
The potential conflict of interest may not have made a difference in this case, because the council’s vote to accept Vossekuil’s resignation was unanimous.
Alderperson Smith made that point while defending the council and its six members, who all voted on the matter.
“The vote was unanimous,” Smith said. “It’s not like it was 3 vs 3, or 4 vs 2 or even 5 vs 1. We all agreed together to move on and find someone else for the job.”
“If this is how the first negotiation went, are we expected to keep doing this every year when the contract expires?”
Dan Bell, president of the Police and Fire Commission, says the commission has not yet begun looking at who they would like to hire now that Vossekuil has rejected the contract offered by the Common Council.
Melanie Siegel, a member of the Police and Fire Comission, says she hopes that the City and Vossekuil can still come to some sort of agreement, saying it’s “what is best for the City of Mayville.”.
“The PFC spent countless hours reviewing applications and interviewing candidates for the position of Police Chief,” Siegel said.
“We even considered hiring someone from outside Mayville for a fresh start. However, after interviewing Ryan, it was pretty evident he was exactly what the city of Mayville needed.”
Vossekuil says at this point, he’s not sure what he would do if the Common Council were to offer him the job with the identified terms removed.
But he maintains that before he would even begin to discuss the prospects of becoming Chief, he would need to see a new contract – without the provisions listed – in writing.
It’s unclear if the same contract will be offered to any other potential candidates for the job, but Boelk maintains that the language in the contract is legal and was drafted by the city attorney.
For now, Vossekuil will continue to serve as interim Chief of Police until the Police and Fire Commission finds someone new, and the Common Council can reach an agreement with that person.