Former Schaumburg police director Richard Casler said Monday he was fired so the village could save on health insurance costs in the wake of his diagnosis with cancer.
Village Manager Ken Fritz strongly denied money played any role in Casler's firing, which was originally planned to be presented publicly as a voluntary resignation.
In his first public comments since his dismissal, Casler said he was blindsided and given no explanation when he was called into Fritz's office Friday and told he was fired, effective immediately.
"I've racked my brain," Casler said. "I've done so much soul-searching this weekend."
Casler said he's convinced the village had learned through insurance bills of his expensive treatments for non-Hodgkin lymphoma. He was diagnosed in summer 2007.
Casler said he was asked to sign a severance agreement Friday that would have limited him to only 18 more months of health insurance coverage through the village, beyond his four months' severance pay.
This is significantly different from the lifetime participation in the village's insurance pool afforded to every other retiree of the police and fire departments.
But Fritz said this was a mistake in the paperwork, created by an attorney unaware of the fact that Casler was already a pensioned retiree of the department. Fritz said the mistake was corrected with Casler's attorney Friday night.
Still, Casler asserts the village sought to intimidate him into signing away his full benefits, noting the presence of two plainclothes Illinois state troopers at his dismissal. Casler refused to sign the severance agreement without having a chance to have an attorney review it.
Fritz said it's standard procedure to take precautions for the firing of any armed employee of the village, but that it didn't feel appropriate to use Schaumburg officers at the termination of their own department head.
Both Fritz and Mayor Al Larson said they didn't even know of Casler's medical condition until it was mentioned by Casler's attorney in conversation with Fritz Friday night.
"The possibility that the village would do that to (Casler) as a cost-saving measure is unthinkable," Fritz said.
Fritz added that there have been employees with serious illnesses in the past whom the village has stood by, and may be even now.
Fritz said there were some reasons expressed to Casler about his termination Friday, but he didn't deny that the conversation was brief. He wouldn't elaborate on those reasons as they fall under the category of personnel issues.
"We provided him some basic information about what was happening and why, but maybe not to his liking," Fritz said. "We did not go into a lot of detail, no, and we didn't have to. He's an at-will employee."
Casler had been the civilian head of the police force since his retirement as chief in 2001.
Since then, he earned a salary of more than $100,000 while also collecting a $70,000 yearly pension.
But Casler believes that what he interpreted as an attempt to take away his health coverage would have eventually bankrupted him, given his long-term medical condition.
Fritz said retaining Casler as a civilian director in 2001 was seen as a benefit in maintaining stability in the department only two years after Casler became chief.
Two chiefs were named to serve under Casler, one of whom was Brian Howerton, now the new interim director.
But Fritz said he plans to propose restructuring the department back to the more traditional model of having one chief as department head.