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Justices rule that POST director’s 2009 firing came after ‘classic insubordination’

The Idaho Supreme Court ruled unanimously Nov. 27 against a former director of the state police academy who was challenging his firing, saying his case was one of “classic insubordination” that wasn’t entitled to protections under the state’s Whistleblower Act.

Former Peace Officer Standards & Training Executive Director Jeffry Black was fired in November 2009 after three years leading the law-enforcement training center in Meridian, just west of Boise. POST is a division of the Idaho State Police.

As justification, then-State Police Director Jerry Russell said Black, among other things, had failed to follow his directives and refused to respond to requests regarding a personnel management report.

Black challenged his termination, contending his conduct was such that he should have been shielded from firing. He argued he answered to the POST board, not Russell.

However, justices decided Black’s decision to challenge Russell’s administrative power didn’t entitle him to Whistleblower Act protections otherwise afforded public employees “who experience adverse action from their employer as a result of reporting waste and violations of a law, rule or regulation.”

“In this case, it amounted to classic insubordination,” justices wrote of Black’s behavior. “Unfortunately for Black, the Whistleblower Act is not intended to protect those who engage in bureaucratic turf squabbles.”

Black’s attorney, Kimberly Williams of Rossman Law Group in Boise, didn’t return a call from The Associated Press on Nov. 29.

The eight-page decision outlines what appears to have been a bitter dispute between Black and Russell that played out in the top offices of Idaho law enforcement.

It began in November 2008 when the training academy was struggling with financial difficulties that required a $50,000 infusion from the Idaho State Police coffers to cover the academy’s bills and payroll expenses for the month.

Russell demanded an accounting for the financial problems. In response, Black told Russell that he was accountable only to the training academy’s leaders, not the State Police, the justices wrote.

The feud escalated when Russell grew unsatisfied with Black’s response to an audit of personnel management issues at the academy.  It boiled over when the two began fighting over employees. Russell wanted an academy financial specialist transferred back to the State Police, where she had formerly been stationed. Black refused, telling Russell in a terse letter that he felt it was in the “best interest” of the academy to keep the specialist where she was, according to the ruling.

On Nov. 5, 2009, nearly a year after the internal crisis began, Black was fired. He immediately fought the decision.

According to court documents, he said his decisions not to obey Russell’s directives were made on the “good faith” understanding that Idaho law required him to answer only to the board that oversaw the training academy, not the head of the State Police.

The justices upheld a previous state court’s decision rejecting Black’s argument, writing that the Whistleblower Act is intended to help employees in difficult situations uphold integrity in government, and not as cover for people embroiled in internecine office warfare.

“Disputing proper administrative authority does not constitute protected activity,” they wrote.

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