Although a Santa Fe Police Department spokesman said this week a controversial police sergeant is retiring effective Thursday, Aug. 24, he actually will remain on the city payroll through May.
That’s because Sgt. Troy Baker, whose departure comes amid an internal affairs investigation into inflammatory Facebook posts he shared on such topics as women, Muslims and protesters, will be paid for 159 unused sick days, holiday and compensatory time off, and hundreds of hours of annual leave accrued during his 22 years with the department.
In total, the head of the police officers union banked enough such compensation to cover his absence until his retirement officially kicks in on June 1, 2018, Lynette Trujillo, the city’s human resources director, wrote to Baker in a letter this week.
Baker’s retirement, aided by a sick-leave buyout available to many public employees but generally not offered in the private sector, allows City Hall to move past a political controversy but adds to number of vacancies that the department already is struggling to fill.
Matt Ross, a city spokesman, said the department already had 20 other vacant positions, with Baker’s retirement leaving the police force with 158 employees, including the chief and top command staff.
Unclear is whether an internal affairs investigation, launched in February after the Santa Fe Reporter published Baker’s controversial Facebook posts, reached any conclusion before he decided to retire. The controversy was reignited this month after racial violence in Charlottesville, Va., culminated with a man plowing his car into a crowd of people protesting against white supremacists, killing a 32-year-old woman and injuring 19 others.
Santa Fe police Chief Patrick Gallagher put Baker on restrictive desk duty days after the Charlottesville incident drew renewed attention to a Facebook posting by Baker that depicted protesters being run over by a vehicle under the headline “All lives splatter.”
Mayor Javier Gonzales said in a statement Wednesday that memes on Baker’s Facebook wall “were offensive and hurtful, and they don’t represent the police department I know, full of officers who are committed to serving all of our citizens.”
The mayor added, “Now it’s time to close this chapter and move forward with policing this community in a way that’s focused on safety, people, and trust.”
City Manager Brian Snyder said in a statement Wednesday: “While we can’t comment on the specifics of personnel matters, I can say that we are eager to put these issues behind us and focus on providing trustworthy, top notch public service to every Santa Fean.”
City officials have said they will not release any records of the internal affairs investigation, even though the city is allowed to release such records under state law.
But the city on Wednesday did release other employment records related to Baker, including his letter dated Monday to the city human resource director in which he stated his intent to retire effective May 31, 2018, with his last working day on Aug. 24, 2017.
Baker provided no reasons for his retirement, but requested the city provide calculations for his sick leave, per an “early retirement article” in the police union contract with the city.
“I am requesting that all my annual leave, compensatory time, [administrative] leave and holidays not worked to be paid into my Deferred Compensation on my final paycheck,” Baker wrote.
Baker, who records show was hired at the department in February 1995, did not return a phone message Wednesday.
John D’Amato, an Albuquerque lawyer who is the union attorney for Santa Fe police, said all city employees, not just police, are eligible for such benefits.
“Some officers never take time off,” D’Amato said. “Some officers do, and then, you know, you try to teach kids coming out of the academy this is the bank. So don’t waste the bank. Try to accrue as much as you can. Someday you may need it.”
The records show Baker accrued more than 284 days of unused sick time. Yet, per a contract with the Santa Fe Police Officers Association, he was only able to use 159 sick days toward an early retirement, the human resource records state. At a pay rate of $33.41 an hour, that amounts to almost $42,500.
Baker is entitled to roughly 6.5 days of unpaid holiday time ($2,205) and about 42 days of accrued annual leave ($14,156) according to the records.
Even while not working, Baker will continue to accrue sick and annual leave until his June 1 retirement date. The city payroll records show Baker is set to receive 129.15 hours of sick leave for the period starting Aug. 28 until his official retirement, as well as 174.3 hours of annual leave.
Greg Gurulé, spokesman for Santa Fe police, said that under the Public Employees Retirement Association contract, police officers can claim retirement benefits after 20 years.
Baker at one point was the second-highest paid city employee. In 2010, according to The New Mexican archives, when Baker was in charge of the department’s bomb squad, overtime pay pushed his annual earnings to more than $120,000. Online city payroll records show Baker’s current base salary as a sergeant is about $69,500.
Ross, the city spokesman, said the vacancy created by Baker’s retirement can be filled under the existing budget. The city weeks ago allocated funds for a public push to fill vacancies.
The department plans to hire three officers who are in training at the New Mexico Law Enforcement Academy, while an additional officer is in “pre-academy status,” Gurulé said. Fifteen more recruits are in the pipeline, pending the outcome of background checks, Gurulé added.
Gallagher, the police chief, said Wednesday through the department spokesman that any vacancy affects the department, which continues to mount recruitment efforts.
Contact Justin Horwath at 505-986-3017 or firstname.lastname@example.org.