View is different from all sides on Lyons’ retirement from Braidwood PD

Marney Simon

The change in leadership at the Braidwood Police Department is nearly complete, as a new interim chief has been appointed with plans to make that a permanent appointment later this month.

But the story on the end of Todd Lyons’ more than four years as Top Cop in Braidwood is not over.

Lyons resigned effective immediately last week. Lyons said he was approached by Mayor Karen Hart and asked to resign for the good of the department and the city.

Members of the public asked the City Council during their regular meeting on Oct. 10, just hours after the resignation, for a clear explanation of why Lyons was asked to resign, and offered examples of positive personal experiences with Lyons as part of their frustration over the decision.

Hart announced during that meeting that Lyons had submitted his resignation papers as of Oct. 10, but did not comment further at that time.

During an interview with the Braidwood Journal on Oct. 13, Hart said Lyons sent an email on Oct. 3 letting the mayor and the members of the police department know that he was going to retire, only to rescind that letter of resignation a few days later.

Hart and members of the police department said that beginning last spring, Lyons had become disengaged with staff.

“There had been some concerns that had been voiced by the police to the commissioners about what was happening in the police department, that was way back,” Hart said. “Everybody really thought it was just a couple of guys [complaining] about their boss. We didn’t really take much thought into it. But as it went on, and this was probably in May or June when it started to rumble. Then we got busy with sergeants’ contracts, then his contract got tabled, then it all kind of snowballed and it became more and more concerning.”

Hart said she asked the commissioners to join her in having discussions with Lyons and the officers to get to the bottom of the issue, and said she wanted to have a resolution by the end of October. But, she said, after giving that end of October date, Lyons instead submitted his first letter of resignation, which was sent to the mayor, commissioners, Reed-Custer School District, and the members of the police department. Lyons also let the Braidwood Journal know that he would be retiring as of Oct. 6.

Hart said she met with Lyons on Oct. 4 to discuss the resignation.

“There were concerns about more administrative accountability, follow-through, and given that seems like very little, it just built up,” she said. “It was something that was being difficult for the rest of the PD to handle, so they said, so we addressed those with Todd.”

Hart said that during that conversation, Lyons offered to rescind his resignation.

Lyons disputes that claim, saying that the mayor asked him to rescind the letter, which he said he then did.

According to Hart, though, things continued to decline.

“A week and a half after that, the climate just got a little more tension, there was talk of people leaving and it just was snowballing,” Hart said. “And I said, well, it looks like I have to do something one way or another, which I did not want to do. I didn’t buy into this, but something has to be done.

“I had asked [City Attorney] Bryan Wellner to just write a simple statement saying I am retiring as of such and such a date, so he did that and I had that paper and I walked in and I asked one of the officers to please come in the office with me so that there would be a third party there,” Hart continued. “And I simply said to Todd, he said what do you want to talk about, and I said I think it’s time that you put in your retirement papers, I think it would be best for the department and best for Braidwood if you would do it, and I would like you to go out with your head held high.”

Lyons, however, disputes that there were any major issues inside his department. Lyons said he was left out of negotiations of for the new sergeants’ contracts, and never saw those contracts before they were approved, despite the fact that he was responsible for the department’s budget.

Lyons said he only started hearing that there were negative comments after he asked for a raise and to have his contract approved.

“I’m still baffled. I don’t know what happened, I was never told anything. I just know that the council lost trust in me after I asked for my contract,” he said.

Lyons said if there were complaints or issues, no one brought them specifically to him, and anything that he did hear about sounded like typical workplace issues. He said he only heard of two specific times that people were frustrated, once with a delayed paycheck and once when Lyons didn’t approve secondary employment.

“Cops, that’s what they do because they have a lot of downtime. They complain, they sit around at roll call and they complain,” Lyons said. “So, when you find a new council member that will listen to you, I’ve seen it my whole career. They sunk their teeth into them. I think this has nothing to do with the officers, I think this has something to do with somebody else. I’m not going to mention his name, but he is the common denominator for all the problems in the city.”

That said, one member of the police department, who asked to remain anonymous, said that there was much more going on behind the scenes, issues that have remained mostly unknown or unseen by the public.

“It seemed very planned, if you will,” they said. “He exits, the story hits the paper, he posts it on Facebook, and all of a sudden it’s a wildfire. The biggest thing that has bothered all the officers is, in all this uproar, nobody has come to talk to officers. Nobody has come to see. We had to work with him everyday. So, we wanted people to ask us, but everybody immediately went to the council.”

The officer said that while the public was quick to condemn the mayor and the commissioners, city leaders had spent time reaching out to the majority of the officers to gauge the situation. They said over the past several months, Lyons was unresponsive to officer requests, took an excessive amount of time to fill out paperwork, and could sometimes quickly lose patience with staff.

“What we really liked was, the council really listened to us,” they said, adding that the move was all about leadership and department morale.

“It had zero to do with him personally, he’s a great guy, he has a good heart, his heart is in the right place 99.9% of the time,” they said. “But, from an organizational standpoint, the police department’s morale was going down. We didn’t see him nearly as often as we had in the past. Officers were getting passed up for trainings. We were constantly asking for supplies and new hires, we’re short staffed, it’s been said it’s in the budget to hire two new officers and he wouldn’t do it. We had a sergeant’s list that he allowed to expire.”

The officer said it felt to the department members that since Lyons had not been given a contract, he wasn’t all that interested in his work.

“We just weren’t seeing the Todd that we saw when he came in,” they said. “From an organizational standpoint, it wasn’t working… We were losing morale to the point where people were considering leaving… It wasn’t just one officer, it wasn’t two, it was many. So, to say the least, Todd was not a victim of the administration, he was a victim of his own doing. And we just felt like we needed a change, and a lot of this could have been avoided if he had just come and talked with us.”

That staff member said that nine of the 11 law enforcement officers of the department were on the same page about wanting new leadership.

Lyons flatly denied any issues of low morale, pointing to a survey conducted on officers this past June, one of the regulations of the state’s new SAFE-T Act.

Lyons said those wellness surveys came back with positive responses.

In an email dated June 14 provided to the Braidwood Journal by Lyons and sent from First Responders Wellness Center, the group that conducted the survey, Lyons was told “we had a lot of very positive comments on morale and the way things are going. A lot of people like the community and feel supported. Keep up the good work, communication, and caring about the officers as individuals.”

Lyons also said he has heard personally from members of the department who said they supported him as chief and were not involved in any talks about his performance.

Hart echoed the officer’s statements that Lyons is likable and effective when it comes to community relations, but less so when it comes to the administrative duties required of the chief of police. Hart also acknowledged that keeping Lyons in place as chief was an election issue last April. A question of whether Lyons would remain in place was used as a litmus test by several voters, who said their intention was to cast the vote that would keep Lyons as top cop.

“Todd has been the face of the police department and has used social media to promote the police department, which has done a marvelous job,” Hart said. “The police department here has gone from everybody thinking it was awful to thinking it was wonderful. And I will give him that. Todd did a very good job with that. But there are more things to being a chief of police than just being on social media all the time. That’s part of it, but the other part kind of got left behind. I know he enjoyed doing those kinds of things and he’s good at it, he’s very good at it. But, the accountability, the follow-through, and I talked to the police and I had several incidents with Todd where there was no follow-through. It was very uncomfortable… I just thought for the good of the department, we would go in another direction.”

Hart also acknowledged that the lack of a contract for Lyons, who was appointed and officially sworn in by Hart to a roomful of cheers back in May, likely played a role in Lyons’ decision to disengage from some of the administrative duties of the chief. While Lyons’ contract was placed on the agenda for approval over the summer, it was tabled at that time and to date had not been brought back for consideration.

“There were issues on his contract that we were trying to address,” Hart said. “Not pay, not benefits, it was other issues that we were trying to address. Part of it was addressing the accountability.”

Hart also acknowledged that Lyons turned the budget around, but said that the benefits of a budget now in the black were hiding underlying issues of low morale in the department.

“We were all in agreement, we wanted him to stay, we didn’t want him to go, we didn’t want him to retire,” Hart continued. “But, there were some things that we wanted him to do in order to stay, and that just didn’t seem to be something that was happening.”

But despite the accolades, Lyons said what happened doesn’t reflect his efforts as chief, or his personal experience with the mayor, commissioners, and officers.

“I got railroaded,” he said. “I love being retired, I’m looking forward to just having a lot more free time, and I’m enjoying this. But, as an officer we stick up for victims and for people who have gotten wronged. This just does not feel right. It does not feel right.”

City leaders said Lyons’ resignation has also prompted the verbal resignation of Public Health and Safety Commissioner James Mikel, however, as of press time, a formal resignation has not been submitted to the city.

Sgt. Bret Goodwin, a 20 year veteran of the department, has been appointed as interim police chief. That appointment is expected to become official later this month.