By Mike Heine/The Week
(Updated March. 9, 2007, 3:01p.m.)
A controversial rule in the Town of Geneva Police Department's policy manual will be deleted.
From early October 2006 until Friday morning, officers there could not consume alcohol in any town establishment holding a valid liquor license while off duty.
Four officers complained to the Equal Rights Division of the Department of Workforce Development that the policy violated their rights.
An attorney representing the officers said the policy violated state law.
Following a special town board meeting Thursday night, Police Chief Ed Gritzner was unanimously authorized to eliminate the ban.
"My goal is to do the right thing," said Gritzner, who never signed the policy because he did not believe in the ban. "I want to be legal. I don't want anything illegal in our policies."
Gritzner said members of the town board made changes to the policies he and another officer drafted last year, including inclusion of the alcohol ban. That policy was then approved by the town board and put into effect by that action.
Complaining officers said they want the same rights as citizens when they're off duty. That includes having a drink or two at dinner with family and or friends.
"No one really drinks and goes out and gets drunk," said officer Ken Mulhollon. "We understand that we are held to a higher standard as officers. There is no reason any (public official) should be in a bar and be absolutely smoked. Nothing good can come from that."
By Mike Heine/The Week
(Published March. 7, 2007, 1:38 p.m.)
Four town of Geneva officers filed discrimination complains with the state Department of Workforce Development Equal Rights Division over department policies they say are unfair.
The complaints, filed by officers Robert Haase, Eric Anderson, Kenneth Mulhollon and Robert Linder, say a non-smoking policy and no alcohol consumption at local establishments while off-duty policy violate Wisconsin fair employment laws.
The officers complained to the state because, "We're not getting anywhere with what we feel are bad policies and discriminatory policies," Haase said. "I guess we have to try and protect ourselves somehow."
Haase said the officers have tried to get the town board to allow smoking while the officers are on breaks and consume alcohol in town restaurants and bars when off duty, but were unsuccessful.
"Right now, all we want is relief from a few of these policies," Haase said. "And the longer and longer it goes, it does get frustrating."
Town Attorney Richard Torhorst said the union officers' grievances were in the arbitration process and was surprised by the filings.
"That review process is currently in progress so it may be that at this point in time that's premature," Torhorst said.
Torhorst also said the town invited the officers to in informal meeting to discuss and try and resolve the complaints, but the officers refused to meet.
"We extended that olive branch and we were, in essence, rejected," Torhorst said.
Milwaukee-based attorney Thomas Frenn is representing the officers.
"The two major policies that these complaints were filed on are clearly in violation of state law," Frenn said. "They're restricting these people while off duty and it's not reasonably job related (to do so)."
Haase said the officers understand that they should not smoke in squad cars, on town property or while dealing with the public. Otherwise, it should be allowed, they say.
"One of our officers lives in the township. He smokes and he goes home for lunch," said Haase. "He can't even have a cigarette in his own home or while on lunch break."
Mulhollon said officers can't enjoy a beer while out for a fish fry with their families if they are at a town restaurant.
The officers boycotted last year's town employee holiday party because the policy doesn't extend to other town personnel. The holiday party was an exception to the policy that otherwise states, "no officer shall, whether on duty or off duty, consume any intoxicating beverage in any premises holding any class liquor license issued by the town of Geneva."
Exceptions to the rule could also be requested and authorized by the chief or town board for each "individual requested event," the policy states.
Torhorst said the no alcohol policy evolved as a precautionary measure to protect officers from becoming involved in possible litigation.
A civil case filed in United States District Court last year alleged Chief Edward Gritzner, Haase, Mulhollon and Anderson abused four patrons at a local bar following a disturbance.
One of the plaintiffs in the yet unresolved case allege Gritzner was intoxicated at the bar and violently pushed him, according to the civil compliant. The plaintiffs allege Haase, Mulhollon and Anderson abused them during a subsequent arrest, the complaint reads.
Torhorst believed the town board would likely remove the no alcohol while off duty clause if the officers wished.
"We want to sit down and just (have them) say what is the part of the policy they are not happy with," Torhorst said.
The town's attorney felt the smoking ban was appropriate.
Frenn and the four officers said they expected within the week to also complain to the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission about two other policies they say are unfair.
One policy bans facial hair on male officers and a sick leave policy requires officers to provide a doctor's excuse for any time missed for illness. Officers also have to leave a phone number where they can be reached at any time to verify their condition and location.
"It's an overbearing infringement of our privacy," Haase said of sick leave requirements.
Torhorst felt the facial hair and sick leave policies were also appropriate.
"It's just a matter of accountability," he said of the sick leave policy.
Frenn expected the Department of Workforce Development to investigate the complaints within a month.