Griffith council to consider protecting officials against former chief’s suit
By Michelle L. Quinn Post-Tribune correspondent August 19, 2013 9:16PM
Updated: August 20, 2013 7:26PM
GRIFFITH — Town employees implicated in the lawsuit former Police Chief Ron Kottka filed against the town could be exempted from any monetary liability.
The Town Council at its Tuesday night meeting will consider a resolution that will “hold harmless and indemnify all town employees from any adverse judgment entered against them individually in litigation” by Kottka. Kottka in July filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Northern District in Hammond.
Kottka is seeking $100,000 in damages apiece from Griffith Town Council Vice President Rick Ryfa, R-3; Griffith Safety Board President Jim Marker and members Gary Sutton, Roann Purgert, Liz Goral and John Volkmann, among other charges.
Griffith Town attorney Robert Schwerd said the resolution protects those named from the compensatory damages Kottka seeks.
“(The Safety Board members and Ryfa) were doing business as town employees, so it makes sense that the town would cover whatever monies insurance wouldn’t cover,” Schwerd said. “When someone is sued in their capacity as officials, towns usually indemnify them.”
Kottka, who served the department for 38 years, was demoted by the Town Council in November on a recommendation by the Safety Board. The suit contends the Town Council and Safety Board not only never specified what exactly he did to deserve the demotion but disparaged his reputation.
Kottka put in for his retirement at the end of April and dated it for July 15, but said he would rescind it if he was not granted a hearing. Kottka’s Chicago-based attorney, Christopher Cooper, who first demanded a Safety Board hearing for Kottka May 23, said that though the Town Council accepted his retirement, he was still employed with the town until July 15.
Schwedt has concurred that Kottka’s retirement was dated for July, but said that Kottka also took his accrued sick and vacation days immediately, which counts toward his being gone from the department. Where other departments may give retirees a lump sum payment of their accumulated days, Griffith doesn’t allow that, Schwerd said.
As to a hearing before the Safety Board, Schwerd said that wasn’t possible since it was the Town Council, not the Safety Board, which demoted Kottka in the first place.
The suit charges two counts of violation of due process under the 14th Amendment, one count of defamation and one count for declaratory relief. It additionally seeks $100,000 in compensatory damages and an additional $100,000 in punitive damages for each count, plus attorney fees.
The suit also seeks a hearing for Kottka as to the charges for why he was demoted.