Henkel retires after arrestThe Lake County Board of Commissioners Tuesday approved without comment the retirement of Health and Human Services Director Dennis Henkel after he was arrested and pleaded guilty to a July 13 drunk driving charge.
By: Lake County News-Chronicle, Lake County News Chronicle
The Lake County Board of Commissioners Tuesday approved without comment the retirement of Health and Human Services Director Dennis Henkel after he was arrested and pleaded guilty to a July 13 drunk driving charge.
The retirement will begin Aug. 31. He remained on paid administrative leave through Wednesday and now will utilize vacation days until the retirement next month. The board also instructed Human Resources to seek a new director.
Henkel will be eligible to collect a pension through the Public Employees Retirement Association. Because of his years in PERA as a public employee, he was eligible for retirement. The county will pay their match into PERA during Henkel’s vacation time and will also pay health insurance. After that, the county is clear of any financial obligations to him.
Lake County Human Resources Director Cammie Young said she attended a Loudermill hearing in Duluth Monday, along with an attorney for the county, to provide Henkel due process. The hearing is the final chance for a public employee to clear up evidence before disciplinary action is taken against him. Henkel appeared at the hearing.
Young said retirement had always been an option for Henkel.
Any disciplinary action, including termination, needed to be approved by the county board. Commissioner Paul Berg-man said the retirement meant the issue was “out of our hands.”
Commissioner Tom Clifford said he didn’t know whether the board would have fired Henkel, who worked for the county 24 years in various jobs, including as a social worker supervisor.
“I’m glad we didn’t have to decide that,” Bergman said.
Henkel pleaded guilty to a DUI charge July 21 in Cook County court. The other charges – speeding and having an open bottle of intoxicating liquor in his car – were dropped.
Henkel was arrested July 13 near Schroeder on Highway 61 on his way from his home in Duluth to attend a meeting of county directors from the region. His blood alcohol concentration in a preliminary test was .128, above the .08 limit to legally drive in the state. He admitted to drinking schnapps in his coffee during the drive up the shore.
“Dennis is always so prim and proper and so concerned about protocol,” Clifford said. He saw Henkel at the second day of the regional meeting, after Henkel was released from jail. Clifford was unaware of what had transpired 24 hours before.
“[He is] the last person I would have suspected,” Clifford said
Bergman said Henkel is a “great guy” and he was taken aback when he first heard of the arrest. “It shows how one decision can change your whole life.”
Cook County Attorney Tim Scannell said Henkel “received the standard first-time offender sentence” of fines and two years of probation.
Conditions of the probation include a chemical dependency evaluation and following its recommendations, and attending a Mothers Against Drunk Driving victim panel. The fine is $500.
Depending on when the conviction is entered, Henkel’s license to drive will be automatically revoked for 90 days. That restriction could be dropped to 30 days.
At the time of Henkel’s arrest, he told a police officer he was on his way to a meeting of the regional directors of human services in Schroeder and that he’d been drinking in his car since leaving Duluth that morning.
Henkel, 61, was pulled over for driving 70 mph in a 55 mph zone just before 1 p.m. He’s was charged with DUI, speeding, and having an open bottle of liquor in his car.
A State Patrol trooper asked if Henkel had been drinking and he reportedly said “not now.” She then gave him several roadside sobriety tests, which he failed. He blew a .128 in a breath test. The trooper made an arrest for fourth-degree DUI.