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Wis. officials pay over $60K for fire chief to resign, not publicly complain in reorganization dispute

Waterford Fire Chief Kevin Hafemann agreed to drop pending complaints and an open records request


Waterford Fire Chief Kevin Hafemann/LinkedIn

By Scott Williams
The Journal Times

WATERFORD, Wis. — Village officials have agreed to pay $61,250 to Kevin Hafemann, who resigned as fire chief after the department was restructured.

[EARLIER: Wis. officials face state law violation after fire chief resigns over restructuring plan]

Village President Don Houston signed an agreement with Hafemann in which the village also gave Hafemann a positive job reference and promised not to make disparaging public remarks about him.

In exchange, Hafemann agreed to resign, to not apply for unemployment benefits, to drop any pending complaints against the village and to withdraw an open records request.

The village released a copy of the four-page agreement after The Journal Times requested access to public records related to the fire chief’s May 13 resignation.

Neither Houston nor Hafemann could be reached for comment.

Members of the Waterford Fire Commission, which oversees hiring decisions in the fire department, said they were unaware that the chief’s resignation was part of a negotiated deal.

Village Board member Troy McReynolds said he had not seen the agreement and was unaware of the details.

“The only thing I was aware of was that there was something in the works,” McReynolds said.

Other Village Board members could not be reached for comment.

McReynolds was not in attendance on May 7 when the board approved a restructuring of the fire department and held a closed-door executive session about unspecified personnel matters.

After the executive session, board members voted unanimously — without disclosing details — to “direct staff to carry out items discussed in closed session.”

The resignation agreement and release of claims, dated May 13, notes that the village was reorganizing the fire department, and it states that Hafemann was voluntarily resigning as fire chief.

“The parties wish to reduce to writing their mutual agreements regarding the remainder and severance of Hafemann’s employment with the village,” it states.

During his time as fire chief, Hafemann had publicly warned about deteriorating service because of inadequate funding for the department. The situation led to public criticism of village officials and elected leaders.

In the reorganization, the department will be divided into two departments — one for fire protection and one for emergency medical services. No plan has been outlined publicly regarding how the two departments will be funded.

Hafemann, who was named fire chief in October 2022, earned a salary of $152,143 a year in wages and benefits.

The resignation agreement states the village will give him a one-time payment of $61,250 in full satisfaction of all wages, benefits, accrued vacation, and “any other payment or benefit which Hafemann may be entitled to.”

It also requires Hafemann to refrain from making disparaging remarks about village officials or encouraging others to do so.

No details have been released about the open records request Hafemann agreed to withdraw, except that he submitted the request on April 12 with assistance from attorney Robert Mihelich.

Mihelich could not be reached for comment.

Members of the Fire Commission — who hired Hafemann as chief — said they could not recall seeing similar agreements negotiated with someone who was resigning from a fire department.

Commission member Bonnie Schauer said she thought Hafemann had decided to step down himself.

“That was an individual decision on his own,” Schauer said. “He did that voluntarily on his own.”

Commission Chairwoman Jennifer Denton said the commission likely would have no role in the fire chief’s departure unless it was part of a disciplinary action.

The commission was not asked to review any part of the resignation agreement, Denton said.

Denton also said she did not expect Hafemann’s tenure in the fire department to be so brief.

“It does seem a bit discouraging,” she said. “I would’ve liked to see him stay.”

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