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Sharp County Quorum Court hears grievance hearing

Friday, November 25, 2011

Former Highland Resource Officer Mike Baldwin presents his case in a grievance hearing against the county Nov. 14 to address his reassignment and cut in pay, comp time hours owed him and the legality of the officer being required to teach a class for which he had no certification.
For the first time in five years, the Sharp County Quorum Court heard a grievance hearing Nov. 14, regarding three complaints by Mike Baldwin, former Highland School resource officer.

Baldwin was hired as resource officer under the administration of former sheriff Dale Weaver. Through a partnership with the school, the county was reimbursed for Baldwin's wages and his paychecks were received through the sheriff's department.

The officer was initially hired in 2009, and worked at the school to curb disciplinary problems and to provide a positive influence on students. Baldwin also served as the sponsor for the school's Rebels Against Drugs program and was required to attend sports and extracurricular activities as part of his job.

Baldwin's grievance hearing was set to address his reassignment as a patrol officer and subsequent cut in pay, 508 hours of comp time he claimed he was owed to him by the county, as well as the legality of him being required to teach a class for which he held no teaching credentials.

At the beginning of the 2011-2012 school year, Baldwin said he was asked by Highland Principal Clint Shackleford to teach a class of alternative school students and "come up with a curriculum."

The class was, according to Shackleford who was called as a witness, for 15 minutes a day five days a week. It was a "life skills" segment, in which no certifications were needed and no grades or credits were given. Shackleford further explained the purpose was merely to enrich the lives of the students. He also pointed out the current resource officer Steve Chism, is now providing the sessions.

Baldwin said he was a law enforcement officer and had no training to teach classes and discussed with Sheriff Mark Counts, in late August, his concerns with the legality of him being required to teach the class, something he had never been asked to do prior to this year.

Baldwin said, "My number one priority is safety and I have no credentials as a teacher."

Counts was also called as a witness and told the court Baldwin had come to him and said he was not going to teach the classes. The sheriff suggested to Baldwin he would have to do as he was asked, or resign and be reassigned as a patrol deputy. Counts said he told Baldwin he would receive the state mandated pay for the position.

Baldwin then resigned and took the patrol position, but testified, when he received his first pay check, it was less than his job as the resource officer which was $26,000. Baldwin explained to the court he was promoted to sergeant by former sheriff Dale Weaver, and was due the pay for his rank, which is $28,000. Patrol officers receive $24,057.

Baldwin presented officials with his time log and said he was due 508 hours of comp time from when he worked at the school as a resource officer. Baldwin said, "I am not asking for anything I haven't earned."

The county's attorney, Nicholas Windle questioned Baldwin about the comp time hours he claimed and said after calculating the hours, his figures indicated Baldwin was paid for 500 hours he did not work, including time off for holidays. Baldwin disputed the claim and offered to go over his time log with Windle.

Former Sheriff Dale Weaver was then called as a witness regarding Baldwin's comp time. Weaver explained the Sheriff Department's policy for overtime. Employees who work over 171 hours within a 28 day work cycle are entitled to comp time, but must first be approved and a form signed by the employee's supervisor. Weaver said he had never been advised of Baldwin's comp hours before he left office. He said, had he been aware of the hours, he would have ensured Baldwin would have taken time off time as needed. Weaver said, "I have never been aware of him having any overtime, not even one hour."

While both Weaver and Counts were in agreement there had never been any complaints against Baldwin, both said they were not aware of the numerous comp hours Baldwin was claiming.

Counts addressed the court explaining Baldwin was not reduced in rank, and still retains his rank as sergeant. But, due to budgetting, Baldwin's pay is that of a patrol officer. He also pointed out the current resource officer, Steve Chism, is also receiving the patrol deputy pay.

Prior to the court going into executive session to make a decision, Baldwin stated, although Chism was teaching "Smart Choices, Better Chances" segments to students, the officer has not completed the required training to conduct the classes.

The court's task was to determine if the county had acted in an illegal or unconstitutional manner in regard to Baldwin's claims.

Within minutes, Justice Darrell Kehrli returned and said the court had made a unanimous decision nothing illegal had occurred. It denied Baldwin's grievance and the pay he claimed he was due.

Kehrli said, "I would like to make a suggestion, if I may, I think there was a lack of communication and suggest that, in the interest of the county and school, there be some type of a checks and balances system in the future to avoid things like this."

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