Crofton

Mayor Sharol Lawhead, holding the microphone, leads a Crofton City Council meeting last November while Councilor Illa Roeder listens. The council unanimously approved the $54,000 payment for a settlement with a law firm which had sued the city for breach of contract and violation of the open meetings law.

CROFTON, Neb. — A former Crofton police chief has sued the City of Crofton, alleging non-payment for his services.

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.

Mayor Sharol Lawhead was served with the complaint, the Journal reported.

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.

In his unrelated lawsuit, 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.

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.

The City of Crofton is required to respond to the complaint within 30 days, or the court may enter judgement for the damages sought in the complaint.

Any Crofton City Council action on the lawsuit apparently will wait until at least next week.

The Crofton City Council was scheduled to meet Jan. 6. However, the meeting was moved to Wednesday (Jan. 15) because “a death,” according to a noticed posted at Crofton City Hall and on the city’s Facebook page.

No further details were given as to whose death was involved or the circumstances surrounding the death and how it affected the city council.

On Wednesday night, the rescheduled meeting was again delayed because of the absence of two councilors, according to a notice posted at Crofton City Hall. The agenda had included “litigation,” according to the Journal.

The posted notice said the twice-delayed meeting would now be held Jan 23 at 6:30 p.m. in the City Auditorium. If the city waits until that time to act on Schmidt’s lawsuit, it would apparently fall outside the 30-day window for filing a response.

Schmidt and city officials had apparently run into conflict, particularly on the pay issue, in the weeks leading up to his termination.

The Press & Dakotan covered the issue when it 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 (county commissioner) Marty O’Connor of Crofton on Schmidt’s notice. The Knox County Board of Supervisors (county commissioners) 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. He went through the Professional Peace Officer program at Hennepin Technical College in Brooklyn Park, Minnesota, and passed the Peace Officer Standard along with the training test, according to a Press & Dakotan story.

In the current lawsuit, Schmidt is represented by Edward F. Pohren of Pohren & Rogers, LLP of Omaha, according to the Crofton Journal.

In its dealings with the Hendrix lawsuit, the Crofton City Council used the services of Norfolk attorney Kathleen Rockey, who had served as outside counselor and negotiator in the lawsuit.

The Hendrixes were represented in the suit by Domina Law Group of Omaha.

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