Former city officer to fight termination

Eric Houseknecht, a veteran former police officer fired for insubordination last month, will fight the July 19 decision by City Council’s 4-0 vote, according to the city police union.

The former corporal and the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 29 will proceed to arbitration to have the grievance resolved and to have Houseknecht reinstated to his former position with the police department, said Lt. Steven Helm, union president.

Houseknecht was cited with 27 instances of insubordination and misconduct.

Up until the termination, Houseknecht was on paid suspension for 10 months and received about $62,000.

The nature of the offenses has not been disclosed.

“Should they ever go to court, I suppose they could be revealed,” said Norman Lubin, city solicitor.

Prior to the vote to terminate, Councilman Randall Allision said Houseknecht’s conduct was “egregious.”

“An arbitrator can hear the case,” Lubin said.

In the past, attorney Pat Harvey has represented the city, while Tony Caputo has been the union representative. Lubin said he is uncertain if the same attorneys would work on the arbitration.

Generally, arbitration hearings are done at City Hall unless otherwise arranged, Lubin said.

Houseknecht was told he was the subject of an internal investigation last Aug. 24, Helm said. The corporal was placed on paid administrative leave while the city conducted the investigation.

On April 2 of this year, Houseknecht received a notice of discipline from Police Chief David J. Young, who recommended Houseknecht be suspended for 30 days and demoted to the rank of patrolman, Helm said.

Houseknecht contested the discipline and requested a hearing before council, Helm said.

During the hearing, Councilman Don Noviello said the 30-day suspension would be a “woeful response.”

According to the FOP, Houseknecht was charged with about 30 separate minor policy violations regarding the performance of his duties as corporal to which he was promoted in the spring of 2017.

“None of the charges arise to the level of criminal misconduct, create a civil liability or, standing alone, warrant serious discipline,” Helm said on behalf of the union.

Asked why there were only four of seven councilmembers at the hearing, Lubin said “it was a scheduling issue.”

“It didn’t have to do with three others not wanting to take part in the hearing,” he said.

Councilwoman Bonnie Katz and Councilmen Randall J. Allison and Don Noviello and Derek Slaughter voted at the meeting, while members Joel Henderson, Liz Miele and President Jonathan Williamson did not attend.

Police in grievances have “very limited grounds to appeal the decision of an arbitrator,” Lubin said.

Williamson said the city will take the next steps as defined by law and begin the arbitration.

Following council’s meeting tonight, a city police pension board meeting is scheduled. Williamson said he was not certain, but if it has to do with Houseknecht’s pension, the board would act as it normally would and review the contributions the former city employee made toward his retirement.

Houseknecht’s offenses don’t rise to the level of forfeiting a pension, Williamson said.

Young said he could not comment on what the offenses involved.

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