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Caseyville residents receive leaked letters attacking police chief before vote on his fate

By   /  March 18, 2014  /  No Comments

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An anonymous source has been busy mailing leaked information to every resident in Caseyville.

Caseyville leak letterA letter from the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police Labor Council, distributed to Mayor Len Black and the Board of Trustees, found its way into every Caseyville mailbox Friday. The letter was accompanied by a cover letter attacking Police Chief Jose Alvarez. The bottom of the letter contained no signature or claim of responsibility, only the words “concerned citizens of Caseyville.”

Another leaked letter arrived in mailboxes Saturday, this one from Village Attorney John Gilbert and also to Black and the Village Board members. The second letter, mailed from Belleville, was, like the first, unsigned. Like the first cover letter, the second attacked Alvarez.

The letters arrived just days ahead of a scheduled Village Board meeting to once again, potentially, determine Alvarez’s fate as police chief. The meeting will represent the third time the Board at least attempted to take up the issue, following two terminations of Alvarez by Black.

(see related story: Ready, set, fire: A timeline of hiring and firing the current Caseyville police chief)

A leaky government

The leaked documents are the latest in a series of leaks that have become the norm in Caseyville. Information discussed in closed sessions of the Board of Police Commissioners is regularly discussed on Bob Romanik’s radio show soon after the meetings, Board member John Buckley said. Present in the closed sessions are Board members John Vieluf, Don Staley and Buckley, along with Gilbert and, occasionally, Alvarez.

Gilbert served as an attorney for a legal matter involving a strip club in which Romanik has a non-ownership interest, Gilbert said. Buckley said Gilbert has spoken to the Board about advising Romanik on other issues as well.

On March 5, at 9:34 a.m., Buckley and the three Police Board members received a confidential email from Gilbert. Romanik read the memo on his radio show 30 minutes later, Buckley said. It is not clear who is the source of the leaks from the closed meetings and the memo, Buckley said.

The source of the leaked letters is likewise a mystery. Although the letter from the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police Labor Council was dated March 5, the letter from Gilbert was dated March 13 and placed  in the Board members mailboxes at Village Hall Thursday, Gilbert said. The letters made it through the US Postal Service and were in the mailbox of every Caseyville residence Saturday.

Any board member who did not retrieve the Gilbert letter from their Village Hall mailbox had it hand delivered to them Friday by a police officer, Black said. Black initially said he did not remember asking the letters to be delivered by a police officer, but later did recall, saying “it’s not an unusual thing” to have important mail delivered to board members by a police officer.

Black said he was not the source of the leak, but he did not see anything wrong with the letter, marked “attorney-client privileged document confidential,” being sent to the citizens. “I like the transparency of it,” Black said.

The letter, which details Gilbert’s claim of Alvarez’s lying to the Board of Police Commissioners, was not a personnel issue, Black said. However, the letter read aloud by Trustee Brenda Williams at the special Village Board meeting of March 6 was a personnel issue, Black said.

The letter Williams read was provided to Village Board members by the Teamsters Local 50, which had filed a grievance against Black regarding a dust-up he had with some Village Hall staff members (see related story). “I think that was unfair what she did,” Black said. “I think that was a personnel situation.”

Black promised to read his own letter at the March 19 Village Board meeting.

Gilbert also said the citizens needed to be aware of the information contained in his letter, but he did not like that it was leaked and mailed to the them. “I want to assure people that I didn’t leak it,” he said.

Both Buckley and Alvarez experienced frustration with what they see as behavior that is only hurtful to Caseyville. “When are we going to stop doing this Mickey Mouse stuff and let me do the job they hired me to do?,” Alvarez said.

Buckley said he is tired of his town being in the news and wants the person or people who are responsible for the weekend mailings to step forward.

“If you want to address an issue, then be a man or a woman and let’s talk face-to-face,” Buckley said.

The leaked letters

The Illinois Fraternal Order of Police Labor Council letter was sent by Field Representative Mark Rusillo and indicated that there is strife in the department that cannot be reconciled between the officers and Alvarez. No police officer was named in, or signed, the letter. Rusillo said he only acts for a majority of the officers, but declined to say how many reported claims to him.

The police letter indicates that Black’s two attempts to fire Alvarez and “the subsequent public demonstration by the Chief (sic) at the Village Hall speak volumes to the status of the current work environment.” Some officers feel that “some of this behavior may be criminal,” the letter indicates.

There were no specific actions reported to him that may have been criminal, Rusillo said, it was just a “general concern” of the officers that made reports to him. Rusillo did not discuss any of the complaints with Alvarez. “It seemed that sending a letter to the Village was the course of action to take,” Rusillo said.

Gilbert’s letter reports that Alvarez, speaking at a March 4 Board of Police Commissioners meeting, told the Board and Gilbert that the documentation to support the termination of Caseyville Police Officer Steve Romanik, Bob Romanik’s son, was in St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly’s office. Alvarez also claimed, the letter states, that Kelly advised him to not provide the documentation to the Board and that members of the Police Board would be called before a grand jury to investigate the leaks that have occurred from the meetings.

Alvarez has also attempted twice to fire Steve Romanik. The first attempt was on Feb. 11, the day before Alvarez was first fired by Black. Black acknowledges a friendship with Bob Romanik, but denies the elder Romanik has any influence on his decisions.

Gilbert was not at the Feb. 11 Board of Police Commissioners meeting. Because there was no attorney present, the Commissioners decided to delay the vote another week, during a special meeting, Alvarez said. While Alvarez  was terminated, unterminated and terminated again, Steve Romanik was not fired, again.

The second attempt to fire Steve Romanik was during the March 4 meeting. Although no documentation is required to fire a probationary officer, such as Steve Romanik, the Commissioners asked for documentation to support Alvarez’s claims. “We did it to alleviate turmoil in town,” Buckley said.

What happens next is not clear. Alvarez said he is unsure if, using an old interrogation technique, he told the members that the documents were with Kelly. Kelly does not have any of the documents referenced at the meeting, Alvarez said.

“I have the documentation, but wanted to meet at Kelly’s office to be in a safe place,” Alvarez said, “but I don’t remember exactly what I said at the meeting.”

Buckley is also unsure if Gilbert’s or Alvarez’s memory is correct. “I feel the chief is being an investigator because there is a leak,” Buckley said. “I don’t feel he’s lying when he’s throwing something out there, he’s trying to judge our reactions.”

The Metro Independent has filed a Freedom of Information Act request to get a copy of the video taken of the meeting. Kelly said he does not comment on the contents of confidential letters.

The letters sent to the citizens had the opposite effect of what the unidentified person or group intended, Buckley said.

“All of the citizens are behind Alvarez,” Buckley said. “People are more so getting behind him now, even if they weren’t before.”

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