MILWAUKEE — Former Police Chief Alfonso Morales and the City of Milwaukee have reached a tentative settlement, which will keep Morales from resuming his old job this Thursday, Mayor Tom Barrett announced on Tuesday.
The Milwaukee Common Council must now approve the tentative settlement, which could amount to $626,000. The proposal first heads to committee and then will go to a full council vote later this month.
"We are very, very happy to be turning the page with the fire and police commission, with the police department," said Barrett.
"It's never an easy situation when the city is being sued. And it is even more difficult when we've already acknowledged that the process was flawed that got us into this situation. But what we want to be able to do is to put this chapter behind us," said Alderman Ashanti Hamilton, who played a role in the settlement negotiations.
A judge had ruled that if the city and Morales could not come to an agreement, Morales would be reinstated to police chief. Last week, the Fire and Police Commission announced Morales was set to be reinstated on July 15.
Barrett said on Tuesday that the settlement includes a stipulation that postpones Morales' return date to Aug. 1 if necessary.
“I think with this relationship with the city off to the side, and I’m hoping the Common Council will approve the deal and with the cash that comes with this deal. I think Chief Morales will have a brighter day tomorrow than he had for the last year," said Morales' attorney, Frank Gimbel.
Barrett added that moving ahead with the case, as well as the federal lawsuit against the city, might have created greater exposure.
"I believe it's fair to taxpayers. It's not a happy chapter anytime you're having a payout like this, but we felt it was really really important as the alderman said, we acknowledged that there were some very serious due process issues here," Barrett said.
According to Gimbel, if the settlement is approved by the Common Council, the mayor's office will issue a statement saying Morales was wronged and did his job in a way that went above satisfactory. The federal suit and any appeal to the judge's decision would go away too.
"I think the chief has very strong feelings of disappointment at the way he was treated, because he thought he was doing a good job," Gimbel said.
The Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission demoted Morales to captain last August amid ongoing tensions between the then-chief and the powerful oversight body. Morales then resigned from the police department in protest. He has since been fighting to get the settlement or, as he has stated publicly, willingly resume the position of police chief.
Milwaukee County Judge Chris Foley originally ruled the city must come to a settlement before July 3, but that deadline was pushed back to July 12 as negotiations deadlocked. If no settlement is reached, the city must reinstate Morales, Foley ruled. The judge argued the FPC did not give Morales due process when they demoted him.
Details on settlement and time frame
Morales had a four-year contract that went through 2024, and his salary for that period was set between $145-147,000, the mayor said, so the tentative settlement would give Morales the income he would have received as chief had he not been demoted and then resigned. That projected loss of income does not include benefits like health care and pension, but Morales is already receiving his pension after retiring from the police department.
Barrett said during negotiations he thought a $500,000 settlement was fair. Morales and his attorney were reportedly pushing for one amounting to almost $1 million. Morales' attorney says $127,000 of the proposed settlement is for attorney fees.
The judiciary and legislative committee will vote on the tentative settlement next Monday, and the full council will vote on July 27.
Barrett also commented on Acting Milwaukee Police Chief Jeffery Norman, who he said has done a good job in the position and that he has the mayor's support. The decision to appoint a chief rests with the FPC, which just added three new commissioners that had been selected by the mayor and approved by the Common Council.
Morales is also suing the city in federal court, but attorney Gimbel says that lawsuit will go away if the settlement is finalized.
"So the slate will be clean and the city will go their way in terms of replacing Chief Morales with somebody the Fire and Police Commission finds to come to the job at satisfactory qualifications, and Chief Morales is free to spend his time in another employment situation," Gimbel said.
"I suspect that it will be law enforcement related if not as a sworn officer, than some kind of a consulting or teaching job," added Gimbel.