For Doffing and city, arrangement seems to be working
Monday through Friday at 8 a.m., Rene Doffing punches the time clock and digs in to a stack of paperwork.
His routine is similar to those of many office employees in Hastings every Monday. But what makes Doffing different is that he was fired three years ago by the same place he is working for today.
That place is the Hastings Police Department.
That firing, though, was eventually overturned and Doffing was allowed to return to work. Matters were complicated when criminal charges were brought against Doffing, including two felonies. Those charges meant that while he could return to work at the police department, he couldn't be a patrol officer until those charges were cleared.
So, what exactly is Doffing doing at the police department to earn his salary? The answer is paperwork. How is the working environment? It's just fine, he said.
Still, he's no doubt eagerly awaiting his jury trial, now set for May after another delay a few weeks ago.
"It would be nice to have it all behind me," Doffing said. "We're just waiting for our day in court and we'll get this behind us. I could go a long time without seeing my name in the paper again."
Returning to work one year ago was a bit awkward, Doffing said.
"Being off the time I was, it was a little more awkward coming in when I did," he said. "I was pretty apprehensive, but it has been a good working environment for me. I get along fine with the majority of the people here. For the most part, yeah, they leave me alone.
"I come in and do my job. If I have questions, I ask them. They're courteous. We're all professionals here. We can come in and all do our job for the betterment of the community. I know what my job is. I do my job."
The fact that the working arrangement seems to be working well is no surprise to Hastings Police Chief Mike McMenomy, Doffing's supervisor.
"I've always found Rene to be a very likable person," McMenomy said. "We've just had some issues with some decisions he has made, and we've had to deal with that."
Almost three years have passed since the incident that prompted the firing of Doffing. It comes as a surprise to both Doffing and to McMenomy that the issue hasn't been completely resolved yet.
"(The fact that three years have gone by) is a reminder of how slow the process has been," McMenomy said. "That has been disappointing to us, and I'm sure it's disappointing to him. I would like to have it resolved one way or the other."
Should Doffing be cleared of the criminal charges following his jury trial, he'll come back to work as a patrol officer. If found guilty, Doffing would lose his license as a police officer and would lose his job at the department.
McMenomy (or the new police chief) would seek to replace his position with a new hire. Whether or not that happens depends on the city's budget.
Early in 2009, Hastings had 21 patrol officers. In January 2009, Anthony Miller resigned. His position was not filled because the city has had to tighten its financial belt because of the poor economy.
With Doffing handling the records, that leaves 19 officers on patrol.
McMenomy said Doffing cannot return to patrol unless the charges against him are cleared.
"That's the same thing any other police department would do," McMenomy said. "Any time you have this kind of charge, or if an officer is being investigated for a possible criminal charge, you'll put them on administrative leave.
"If we put him back in the car and there was an incident, the liability to the city would be very great."
Twenty-five years worth of paper records are stored at the department, and it is Doffing's job to sort through those records. State law requires that some records be kept permanently.
Doffing sifts through stacks of records, finds those that are permanent, and then delivers those to front office staff who scan them into a computer. Once scanned and saved, and once the work is checked off by another member of the department, the documents are destroyed.
"We are eliminating a lot of filing cabinets," Doffing said. "There is certainly enough there to keep a person busy, scanning through them all.
"This is all stuff that, if I wasn't doing, the office personnel would have to have done eventually. I've been doing it a year and have knocked down a ton of stuff."
McMenomy said the work Doffing is handling with old records is important.
"We've been able to catch up on a lot of that work," McMenomy said. "It has been a real benefit to have him around."
Doffing's first order of business upon returning to work at the city one year ago was to catalog and take inventory for the city auction.
He's also cleaning up and refurbishing old police department equipment to be used as part of a display at the department.
Through it all, Doffing is paid his full salary of $64,251.