April 24, 2013

At Somber Meeting, Council Approves Separation Agreement

In a five-to-one vote, Princeton Council last Thursday approved a severance package for Police Chief David Dudeck. Mr. Dudeck has been on leave since being accused of administrative misconduct by the police union in February. He has “medical conditions that require him to take a leave of absence,” Princeton administrator Bob Bruschi told the governing body. Mr. Dudeck can remain on medical leave until his retirement October 1, or use the time as unpaid leave if he is cleared by a doctor. 

As part of the settlement, the police union agreed to withdraw the allegations and the Mercer County prosecutor will not investigate charges that the union made previously, Mr. Bruschi said. Council member Jo Butler, who cast the lone vote against approval, said,  “This is a sad day for Princeton and a sad day for me, personally,” emphasizing that Mr. Dudeck has “an impeccable record.” “To anyone who might see this as some sort of victory, it is not. And I won’t vote for it,” she concluded, to applause from the audience. Council member Jenny Crumiller said she would have preferred to investigate the charges. “But in deference to the chief, I’m voting for it.”

Council member Heather Howard, who is Princeton’s police commissioner, praised the agreement for its achievement of three goals: to recognize Mr. Dudeck’s 30 years of service to the town, to “recognize the importance of moving forward with our department,” and to legally protect the community from future liability.

Several members of the public chose to praise Mr. Dudeck during the meeting, urging the Council to vote down the separation agreement and instead investigate the charges of “locker room language” and other behavior. The charges were made after the consolidation of the Borough and Township police departments into one, with Mr. Dudeck, who had headed the Borough force, named chief.

Some members of the public complained about the fact that the name of Mr. Dudeck’s lawyer has not been revealed. Others expressed general concern about transparency. “The only thing the public knows about this is a charge of locker room language,” said Princeton resident Peter Marks. “To ruin somebody’s reputation over that seems to me despicable.”

Jerome McGowan of Redding Circle spoke of working alongside Mr. Dudeck in an effort to hire more minorities and women on the police force, and finding him to be “honorable.” (See this week’s Mailbox) “I’m shocked at this situation. I feel more is going on here than meets the eye … right now, I’m ashamed of Princeton. Give the man his dignity back.”

Prominent among those speaking were former Princeton Borough Mayor Mildred Trotman and former Borough Council members Roger Martindell, Barbara Trelstad, and Kevin Wilkes.

“I don’t envy your position,” Mr. Martindell told the Council, saying that the governing bodies’ usual dealing of alleged violations with the police departments is to “sweep under the rug” the issues that caused the problems. “Over the years, that strategy has cost the taxpayers millions of dollars and done nothing to improve public safety in the community. That very issue — sweeping issues under the rug — makes it incumbent upon you, ladies and gentlemen, to break the historical cycle.” Mr. Martindell urged the Council to investigate the allegations.

According to Ms. Trotman, Mr. Dudeck, “… gave Princeton Borough stellar, and I mean stellar, services. It is particularly troubling that at the end of his time in Princeton, after all he’s done, he is being remembered in this fashion.”

Ms. Trelstad said that the Transition Task Force formed to assist consolidation of the two municipalities “thoughtfully chose Dave Dudeck as chief of police of the consolidated Princeton.” Mr. Dudeck has “a spotless record,” she said, calling him “a leader, a teacher, and a mentor.”

“It is to Dave’s credit that he did not initially succumb to the pressure of ‘retire or face charges,’” she continued. “It is most disturbing to me to learn that the charges brought against Dave were brought by former Borough officers based on information that is very old. Why now? …. It is a well-known fact that many members of the former Township Police Department were not in favor of consolidation and that there is tension between the police union and management. Do these facts play into the situation? Unless you investigate the matter, we will never know.”

Mr. Dudeck signed the agreement on April 13 and had seven days to change his mind. “I hope he does,” said Mr. Martindell. “The opportunity for further investigation can be made by Mr. Dudeck if he revokes this agreement. And you can revoke it,” he told Council, “by not adopting it and thinking about it some more and getting public comment.”

Mr. Dudeck has not chosen to revoke the agreement.