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City of Whitewater waives penalty for chief

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Kevin Hoffman
March 30, 2011
— The City of Whitewater will waive a $10,000 penalty and pay former Police Chief Jim Coan $5,300 in accrued vacation time under a separation agreement approved Tuesday by the common council.

City officials for weeks have discussed the terms of Coan's departure, after the 18-year chief accepted a new position outside the state. His contract, signed in 2006, stipulated he return $10,000 to the city if he left the Whitewater Police Department within five years.


It was unclear whether the city would actually impose the penalty, and the common council met earlier this month in closed session to hash out the details of a mutual deal. The three-page separation agreement nullifies the penalty and Coan's right to nearly $31,000 in accumulated sick leave pay. It also forces the city to award Coan his vacation pay within 15 days after the agreement's approval by the city council.


Coan also "expressly declines any reinstatement, re-employment or rehire" by signing the agreement, which he did on Friday. He can revoke the deal by the end of the week, according to the contract's terms.


The common council unanimously approved the agreement without discussion. Coan resigned his post March 19 to accept the same position with the Centennial Lakes Police Department north of Minneapolis. Lt. Lisa Otterbacher, who has spent 21 years with Whitewater's police force, was named interim chief while the city conducts its search for a full-time replacement.


This wasn't the first time Coan left for a job in Minnesota. In 2006, he left to become the chief of police in Hudson, Minn., but quit after two weeks and returned to his job in Whitewater. He said his family was unhappy with the change.


That's when Whitewater added a stipulation to Coan's contract that he return $10,000 to the city if he accepts another position within five years. He needed to stay in Whitewater until September of this year to avoid the fee.


The city can now turn its attention to hiring a new chief. The police commission two weeks ago began looking for an outside agency to help locate and screen candidates. The common council approved $8,000 for the search.


Three firms as of March 16 already had expressed interest in conducting the search—two in Wisconsin and one and Illinois. However, the commission planned to continue accepting company resumes after its last meeting. The police commission plans to meet again in April, though a date has not yet been set. There, it likely will decide to choose a search agency and begin accepting applications for the chief's job.


Officials expect the nationwide search to last several months.



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