Baeza Granted Review Of Dismissal
by Shannon Haugland, Sitka Sentinel
City Administrator Tony Zimmer has granted former Sitka Police Lt. John Baeza the opportunity to have his dismissal from the police department heard by a "complaint review panel."
In a memo to Assembly members Zimmer said he made the offer, which Baeza has accepted, even though the city had no obligation to do so since Baeza was a probationary employee.
Police Chief Bill McLendon terminated Baeza on Jan. 11 following a departmental investigation of a citizen complaint against Baeza. The officer had been on paid leave since the incident. The Alaska State Troopers had already investigated and said the incident did not merit criminal charges against Baeza.
"Given that Mr. Baeza was a probationary employee, it would appear under the personnel policies adopted as the law by the City and Borough Assembly, he has no right to any more process than has already occurred," Zimmer wrote in an e-mail to Assembly members.
But he added that he has decided, in light of "recent circumstances" and after reviewing options with City Attorney Cliff Groh and other legal experts, to grant Baeza's request to present his case to a complaint review panel "under Sitka Police Department General Orders."
Interim Chief Bob Gorder said the hearing by the review panel has been set for 10a.m. Thursday. The panel will consist of a supervisor, Baeza's supervisor, and a lieutenant in the department, Gorder said. After hearing up to two hours from each side in the case, the panel will have up to 72 hours to make a report.
Baeza has claimed that his termination by McLendon was an excessive response to his violation of police department policies when he allegedly used strong language during a telephone conversation and followup interview with a member of the public at his place of business.
McLendon handed in his resignation on Jan. 16.
Since his firing Baeza has leveled a number of allegations of wrongdoing in the police department. A Trooper investigation of those accusations and others is now under way. A consultant has been retained by the city for a separate review of departmental management and policies.
Gorder, a retired Alaska State Trooper and former commander of the Public Safety Academy in Sitka, was named interim chief and McLendon has been placed on administrative leave until his resignation becomes effective Feb. 22.
Zimmer said he will hear any appeal from the review panel's decision.
"Mr. Baeza has no further appeal rights under the Charter and the Code," the administrator said in his e-mail to Assembly members.
Note: It is hard to believe that Mr. Zimmer would desire this hearing to occur if he didn't already know the results of the state trooper's investigation into Baeza's allegations of wrong-doing towards the Sitka Police Department. As he said, he does not have to do this at all. - Brent E. Turvey, MS
Cite: Haugland, S. "Baeza Granted Review Of Dismissal Complaint," The Sitka Daily Sentinel, Monday, February 4, 2002