CROFTON, Neb. — The City of Crofton has challenged the claims of a former Crofton police chief who has sued the city for non-payment.
Patrick Schmidt filed the suit Dec. 16 in Knox County District Court, according to the Crofton Journal weekly newspaper. The Knox County sheriff’s department served the summons Dec. 20, the newspaper added.
Schmidt is seeking his “full amount of wages,” which would apparently be $52,000, as mentioned in the claim, along with allowable sick leave and vacation time, the Journal reported.
Mayor Sharol Lawhead was served with the complaint, the Journal reported. Crofton has about 800 residents.
At Thursday night’s meeting, the Crofton City Council passed a motion to go into executive session for “litigation.” However, the council didn’t specify the subject of the discussion.
Before entering closed session, City Attorney James McNally confirmed to the Press & Dakotan that it involved Schmidt’s lawsuit.
In addition, McNally confirmed the lawsuit is moving forward in court.
“We filed our response last Friday,” he said, noting the action fell within the time limit for answering Schmidt’s complaint.
The city provided documents in its defense, McNally said. Now, the process shifts to Schmidt, who must prove his claims, the attorney said.
The city terminated Schmidt March 28, 2019. He has filed two “claims for relief” against the city, alleging the city did not pay salary and sick time as provided by his contract. The second claim seeks judgment in the full amount, all costs of the lawsuit and all attorney fees.
In addition, Schmidt’s suit seeks “judgment of unpaid wages, or two times the unpaid wages, should the non-payment be determined (by the judgment) to be willful,” the Journal reported.
Schmidt and his attorney will likely need to comb through city records in order to gather the information needed for their suit, McNally said. Those records could include time cards, paychecks and any other city financial information.
Schmidt would need to prove he wasn’t properly compensated during his employment, McNally added.
In the lawsuit, Schmidt is represented by Edward F. Pohren of Pohren & Rogers, LLP of Omaha, Nebraska, according to the Journal.
A key point in the suit appears to be the treatment of vacation time versus sick leave, McNally said.
The next step in the legal process will likely consist of taking depositions and filing interrogatories as part of the discovery process, he added.
Schmidt and Crofton city officials had apparently run into conflict, particularly on the pay issue, in the weeks leading up to his termination. The issue was raised during the Crofton City Council’s Jan. 13, 2019, meeting.
Schmidt sent emails to the Knox County Sheriff Don Henery and Knox County Attorney John Thomas, saying he was closing the Crofton police department after Jan. 1, 2019, because of the non-payment of officers.
In turn, Henery contacted Knox County Supervisor Marty O’Connor of Crofton on Schmidt’s notice. The Knox County Board of Supervisors discussed whether the sheriff’s office and the Nebraska State Patrol would handle Crofton law enforcement, according to county minutes.
Charlie Gail Hendrix, the Crofton city administrator at the time, confirmed the city would receive outside law enforcement assistance.
The Board of Supervisors meeting ended with the understanding that the Knox County Sheriff and Nebraska State Patrol would provide services during the time when the Crofton police department was shut down.
Last May, Volin native Jonathan Hult was hired as the new Crofton police chief.
Besides Hult, the City of Crofton has access to the police services of Brian Paulsen and Mark Krepel, Lawhead told the Press & Dakotan at Thursday’s meeting. The town’s law enforcement needs are being met with the current manpower, she added.
Schmidt’s lawsuit marks the second legal action in recent months where a former city employee filed suit against the City of Crofton.
In November, the city reached and approved a $54,000 settlement with the Hendrix Law and Consulting Firm, which had alleged breach of contract and violation of Nebraska’s open-meetings laws.
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