Friday, December 19, 2008

Deputy Schlenkert v. Merit Commission

Just before closing this afternoon, the decision became available and the Circuit Court clerk's office printed off a copy for me of the decision in Case No. 08 MR 21, Deputy Bob Schlenkert versus the Sheriff's Department Merit Commission.

Let's skip to the bottom line.

Judge Maureen IcIntyre ruled on December 17, 2009 (sic) - (oops! No doubt she meant 2008!) that the "...Decision of the Sheriff's Merit Commission was arbitrary and unreasonable in terminating Deputy Schlenkert for cause. IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that the Decision of the Sheriff's Merit Commission of McHenry County is reversed."

In a 10-page decision on Wednesday Judge McIntyre ruled in Deputy Schlenkert's favor in Case No. 08 MR 21, filed by Deputy Schlenkert against the SHERIFF'S MERIT COMMISSION OF McHENRY COUNTY, JANELLE CROWLEY, Chairperson, PATRICK McANDREWS, GLORIA URCH, WILLIAM MACK and BRIAN GOODE, Members of the Sheriff's Merit Commission of McHenry County, KEITH NYGREN, Sheriff of McHenry County, and COUNTY OF McHENRY, Kenneth Koehler, Chairman.

Deputy Schlenkert has been a McHenry County Sheriff's Deputy since January 1990 and has been fighting to keep his job since May 2007. Because Schlenkert was off on medical leave for approximately two years, Sheriff Nygren decided that Schlenkert had to go back through the entire basic 12-week (480-hour) academy required of new recruits for law enforcement certification.

Although there are no State requirements for physical fitness and none at the sheriff's department, there is a "POWER" test required to be admitted to the academy. The POWER test is not a fitness-for-duty test or a physical fitness test, according to Judge McIntyre's decision. Schlenkert was already certified as a law enforcement officer, and there are no state standards or requirements for continuing education or training to maintain police certification.

The court record in this case included testimony by Sheriff Nygren, Undersheriff Lowery, and Sergeant Wagner.

Component training of academy content is offered in 40-hour blocks of time. Why would a deputy with more than 15 years' experience and already certified as as Illinois peace officer be required to go all the way back through basic training? If a refresher were needed for certain new information, he could attend only those 40-hour blocks, saving the sheriff's department considerable money in several different ways.

Sheriff Nygren had attempted to fire Schlenkert "for cause." However, Judge McIntyre found that Schlenkert did not refuse to comply with Sheriff Nygren's order regarding academy training. "On the contrary, (he) attempted to comply but failed..." certain components of physical activities required only to enter the academy (but not to participate in the 40-hour blocks of component training mentioned above).

Importantly, the Decision continued, Schlenkert's "failure to pass the test did not disqualify him from performing his duties as a certified police officer as he was neither physically or mentally unfit for duty." In other words, he was fit for duty, both physically and mentally!

Judge McIntyre's decision continues that Schlenkert is not unfit for duty and that there is nothing to indicate that he cannot adequately fulfill his duties as a deputy. "His discharge was not based on substantial misconduct or insubordination."

"This Court finds that Decision of the Sheriff's Merit Commission was arbitrary and unreasonable in terminating Deputy Schlenkert for cause."

So, how does the Merit Commission, chaired by a person who is a full-time Human Resources manager, reach such a decision?

Maybe some of you readers have an answer to this question.

1 comment:

Richard W Gorski, M.D. said...

First of all, congratulations Deputy Schlenkert for having won the decision in court. Just be ready for an appeal and spending more money and time to have to get the justice you deserve. Deep tax payer pockets do exist and are often used to cause you to loose by money left to defend closed. It is not justice but a way that is sometimes used to manipulate the justice system by some individuals.

My personal feeling is that there should be no one on the Merit Commission that has a direct or even indirect connection with the economics or economic decisions of any branch of government in the county in which they are serving or have served. My experience, of over 65 years, both as a physician and a citizen of this county (33 years) is that many decisions are allegedly made on the basis of the bottom line: which way or direction should we take will result with less financial or personal liability to the governmental entity we happen to be employed by? I know this sounds like I am a pessimist but I have experienced the "justice" of "bottom line" tactics many times.

I commend Judge McIntyre on the courage, wisdom and legal scholarship she used in making this decision.