Panton failed to show for exam, court papers say

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 8, 2004

Suffolk News-Herald

A Suffolk Police officer who alleged in a lawsuit that City Manager Steve Herbert was trying to weed out veteran officers, failed to show up for an interview for a promotion, according to court papers filed recently.

In an answer to the suite filed by Officer Fred Panton in April, Herbert claimed that Panton was one of 10 officers being considered for promotion to the rank of Master Police Officer last fall and that he was the only one who failed to show for a required interview.

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Panton claimed in his suit that Herbert disregarded the intention of City Council create career development opportunities for police veterans.

According to Panton’s complaint, the Suffolk City Council approved for the 2000-2001 budget several slots for the position of Senior Police Officer and Master Police Officer. The complaint states that prior to Council approving the slots, the only advancement or career development opportunities a Suffolk police officer had was to compete for the promotional process to attain the ranks of sergeant, lieutenant and captain.

&uot;Such opportunities were necessarily limited and officers who desire to stay in the police department had very little advancement opportunity above the rank of Police Officer II,&uot; the complaint stated.

He claimed that nothing was done until 2003 when the Master Police Officer position was created and that even then, the attaining the rank &uot;became so difficult and restrictive that in fact it is more difficult to attain the rank of Master Police Officer than any other rank in the police department…&uot;

Panton, 42, a 15-year veteran of the department, currently holds the rank of Police Officer II. He claimed in his complaint that Herbert, through is actions as inactions, served to effectively repeal and expunge the budgeted positions and extinguish an employee benefit intended for officers.

Herbert’s answer to the suit denied virtually every allegation except that City Council approved a budget for 2000-2001. The response asks that the suit be dismissed because Panton failed to exhaust administrative remedies as required by law and that the court lacks jurisdiction over all or part of the claims in this matter.

Central to Herbert’s answer was that City Council does not have the power to mandate or otherwise require the filling of specific slots and that their doing so would be &uot;a legal impossibility and inconsistent with the laws and facts of the case.&uot;

The response mentions that Panton was once of 10 officers who passed the written part of the Master Police Officer exam and that he was the only who failed to show up for the oral portion of the process.

The response claims that he requested later that a special panel be convened for him. The request was denied because it would not be fair to the officers who did show up.

Along with his answer, Herbert also asked the court to entertain an order striking similarly situated police officers as parties to the matter.