Middletown leaders mum on police chief’s leave, deal to pay him for a year

Leaders mum on cause of Birk’s leave, but deal will pay him through end of 2024.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Middletown City Council unanimously approved a voluntary separation agreement Tuesday night between police chief David Birk and the city, ending a nearly three-month paid administrative leave of the longtime officer with no reason given as to why.

Birk will be paid his regular salary and benefits through the end of the year.

The agreement and vote was part of the consent agenda lumped together with other issues without discussion.

A round of emails, text messages and phone calls to council members seeking comment Wednesday went unanswered except for Councilman Zack Ferrell, who had no comment, citing it would open the city to liability according to the agreement.

City manager Paul Lolli also did not respond.

Social media posts made it clear some people want answers, especially since taxpayers are footing the bill for Birk’s paid administrative leave and an additional year of pay as part of the agreement.

“The city manager needs to go since he refuses to be transparent with the citizens’ money,” said a commenter on the Journal-News Facebook page.

Another poster said, “This is insane. The city now has to hire another police chief and PAY that person while PAYING Birk as well. So the taxpayers are getting charged DOUBLE for one job.”

One commenter pushed back, asking council members for answers: “Pardon me for not believing ‘no wrongdoing’ and a non-disclosure is just bygones. The voters are asking ELECTED people why our police chief was put on leave, and now, in a separation agreement ... They answer to the taxpayers. Or the taxpayers make sure this is their last stint in their positions.”

“I believe we have a right to know what’s going on ... ,” another commenter said.

An approved statement was released by city personnel to media after the vote.

It stated the agreement is to “amicably end the chief’s employment relationship.”

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Because Birk had been on paid administrative leave since December, “it should be noted that the city has not found the chief guilty of any wrongdoing, and he is not being asked or forced to resign from his position,” the statement reads. “Chief Birk’s resignation will be effective at the end of 2024, in order to allow the city to efficiently transition Police Division leadership to a yet to be named successor. Chief Birk has agreed to make himself available for the remainder of the year, to assist the city in this transition.”

The statement continued, “Chief Birk, for his part, is grateful for the opportunity to have served the Middletown community for more than a quarter of a century. He voluntarily leaves the city’s service with many cherished memories and relationships that he will carry with him in the years to come.”

On Wednesday morning, Birk was in Middletown running errands. He chose his words carefully due to the agreement.

“It was my childhood dream to be an officer and I lived it, working my way all the way up to the top. I think it was the best decision for myself and my family,” Birk said. “I love this community, and I still have a passion for Middletown.”

The five-page agreement was included in the council’s workbook for the meeting and shed new details on the deal, first reported by the Journal-News on Monday.

Birk’s attorney, Steve Imm, was critical of the initial allegations against Birk, who spent 26 years with the department.

“As is widely known, Chief David Birk was placed on leave in December. This was the result of unsubstantiated and misguided allegations, of which the chief was not in any way guilty or responsible,” Imm said. “There was no allegation, or even hint of an allegation of any kind of financial or sexual impropriety,” Imm said. “The chief voluntarily leaves the service of the city of Middletown with his head held high, and with his record completely clean.”

Birk signed the agreement Feb. 22.

On Dec. 20, Birk was placed on paid administrative leave “until further notice” by Lolli.

“Birk and council, along with its employees and agents, specifically and unequivocally deny any wrongdoing, and the parties further state that there has been no determination of wrongdoing made by any of the parties,” the separation agreement says.

The separation agreement does not explain why Birk was placed on leave, and city officials have refused to talk about it.

Instead, the deal sets rules to prevent either side from saying anything disparaging about the other.

Birk will receive his regular salary and benefits through Dec. 31, 2024, when his resignation for retirement purposes will take effect.

Until then, Birk will be considered a consultant.

“He shall be reasonably available for assignment for Police Division projects and consultation of the city manager,” the agreement says.

If Birk obtains full-time employment elsewhere prior to Dec. 31, the city will pay him a lump sum equal to his regular salary through the end of the year.

The city also will pay out accrued holiday, sick time and paid time off, plus 50 additional hours of accrued sick leave.

The payments, the agreement says, “are in lieu of any other payments or amounts he may claim are owed to him ... "

“The spirit and intent of this agreement is to terminate with finality any and all issues existing between the parties, and to end their employment relationship in an amicable manner,” the agreement says.

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