Pierce Transit fires public safety chief

Staff writerMarch 24, 2014 

Four months after being placed on paid administrative leave, Pierce Transit Public Safety Chief Rod Baker was fired Monday.

“Effective at the end of business today Chief Rod Baker has been issued a letter of termination of his employment,” Pierce Transit spokeswoman Carol Mitchell said Monday.

Mitchell said she didn’t know the details of why Baker was fired, saying she hadn’t seen the letter sent to him over the weekend that detailed the agency’s reasons for discharging him.

Baker was put on leave in November after an internal audit cited irregularities with timekeeping and payments to a pair of off-duty Tacoma police officers who reported to him. Officers from outside police forces work on contract to help supervise Pierce Transit’s uniformed security officers.

An outside investigator ultimately found no evidence that the supervisory officers over-reported or falsified the hours they worked under Baker. The same investigation stated Baker did not improperly approve hours but that he “likely exceeded” his authority by approving two officers to work on salary instead of by the hour as specified by their contracts.

Baker approved that change without approval from the transit system’s executive director or its board.

Pierce Transit Chief Operations Officer Doug Middleton made the decision to fire Baker at the end of last week. Middleton was Baker’s immediate supervisor.

“He was afforded the appropriate due process and time to comment and my understanding is that due process has ended and this is the result,” Mitchell said.

She said she was not aware of any settlement paid to Baker as part of the termination.

Baker’s attorney Mitchell Riese did not return a call for comment Monday.

Baker had been on paid administrative leave at the rate of his annual salary of $123,272 since Nov. 19. He used some vacation time during that leave as well, Mitchell said.

Baker’s paid leave ended Monday with the firing.

Attorney Joan Mell said Baker’s termination was “not a good way to conduct business” and “does not fairly reflect on the good service he has provided for years.”

Mell represented three officers also investigated by Pierce Transit. One of the off-duty officers, Sgt. Anders Estes, filed a claim against Pierce Transit after he was fired last month.

“My clients would want to thank (Baker) for his years of service and leadership,” Mell said. “They feel the decision to let him go and the manner in which they let him go is really a disservice to the community.”

Acting Public Safety Chief Bill Cassio will remain in the position on an interim basis until it’s decided how to fill Baker’s vacancy. Cassio was previously deputy chief until Baker was placed on leave.

Baker had been Pierce Transit’s public safety chief since 2006 and had worked for the agency since 2000. 

 

Brynn Grimley: 253-597-8467 Brynn.grimley@thenewstribune.com

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