After a year of character assassinations, rancorous finger pointing and conspiracy theories, the termination hearings for Sgt. Dan Harder ended quickly and quietly with an overwhelming vote by the Fire and Police Commission to sustain the charges.
Harder himself did not attend the five-minute meeting called on Oct. 12 to hear the results of the commission’s deliberation. The three members of the ruling body offered no comment on their decision and swiftly rattled off their votes on the 10 charges brought by police Chief Jim Ryan before adjourning.
Several onlookers, including Mayor Anthony Calderone, Village Administrator Mike Sturino and various police officers attended the meeting. The basement room of village hall where the meeting was held cleared out soon after the votes were cast.
On Aug. 18, 2005, Ryan lodged seven complaints against Harder with the Fire and Police Commission alleging that Harder violated the department’s code of conduct by calling a subordinate officer a “(expletive) idiot.” Two more charges assert that Harder lied to the chief of police and a single charge contends Harder abused the department’s policy on sick time.
Harder’s attorney Jeanine Stevens had no comment as to why her client did not attend the hearing. Harder declined to comment on the ruling. He also declined to comment on his reason for not attending the latest hearing.
Though the penalty phase of the hearing still remains, Ryan said the ruling will have a positive effect on department morale. Employees can be assured they will not be overburdened by a single officer’s lack of responsibility, Ryan said. The chief alleged that Harder was romantically involved with a fellow officer and used his sick days to socialize with that co-worker.
“I think it improves morale when officers know you won’t tolerate this type of activity,” Ryan said. “He tells his wife he’s going to work, calls in sick and then goes over to Sgt. Maureen Frawley’s.”
In voting to sustain Ryan’s charges, the commission distinguished one accusation that Harder did not truthfully answer questions during a July 1, 2005, interrogation into three separate charges. In total, the three fire and police commissioners cast 29 votes in support of Ryan and only one vote in support of Harder. Glenn Garlisch voted not to sustain the accusation that Harder violated the department’s attendance policy.
Harder’s attorney said she was not surprised by the ruling at all, and that her client was more likely to be visited by Jesus Christ than get a fair shake in Forest Park. Stevens vowed to hold the commission accountable through the appeals process.
“This board will be responsible for back pay, other benefits and substantial, substantial damages,” Stevens said.
Mayor Calderone said the overwhelming nature of the vote should affirm for residents that Harder’s claim of a conspiracy is false. The only politics involved in the process, Calderone said, were injected by Harder’s attorney.
“Discipline should not be based on politics,” Calderone said. “Discipline should not be based on economics. Discipline should be based on whether an employee has broken a rule.”
Fire and Police Commission attorney Charles Hervas set an Oct. 20 deadline for disclosing witnesses who will testify in the penalty phase of the hearing. Also, the commission is expected to take roughly 30 days to deliver a written opinion that explains its decision.
Harder has 35 days to file for an administrative review of the commission’s decision with the Cook County courts. The judge has the ability to either uphold or overturn the commission’s ruling.
“The judge has a lot of power to say whether the board got it right,” Hervas said.
If either party is not pleased with the circuit court’s ruling, Hervas said any further appeals will go to the appellate courts.
A date has not yet been set for the commission to hear arguments regarding Harder’s punishment. Ryan is asking that Harder be fired from his job.