Sierra County sheriff getting paid while serving in National Guard

Posted at: 02/12/2013 10:13 PM
Updated at: 02/12/2013 10:25 PM
By: Chris Ramirez, KOB Eyewitness News 4

Photo: Joe Baca
Photo: Joe Baca

It’s been a month and a half since anyone in Sierra County has seen their elected sheriff Joe Baca. 

4 On Your Side has learned Sheriff Baca isn’t even in New Mexico.  Baca now lives in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.  Documents from the National Guard reveal he took a voluntary course in Missouri to advance his military career, but some in his hometown worry it’s at the expense of public safety in Sierra County. 

"He put us in a bind,” Sierra County Commissioner Frances Luna said.  “We are getting calls constantly as to how we're going to handle the law enforcement situation in this county."

Nobody is upset that Sheriff Baca is serving his country.  Truth or Consequences, which is the largest municipality in Sierra County, is a patriotic town and proud of their service men and women.  But while the sheriff is away, the County continues to pay his salary and benefits which total more than $70,000.

"We're required by New Mexico law to continue his payments, his paychecks, his benefits," said Sierra County Manager Jan Porter-Carrejo.

Porter-Carrejo reported that since Baca’s departure, the overtime budget has nearly doubled.  She said that other deputies are having to pull Baca’s weight and are working extra hours to do so. 

Sierra County Deputy Joe Webster said morale is at an all-time low and deputies on the force don’t know what is going on. 

"If he wants to be a soldier and defend his country, I got no problem with that,” Deputy Webster said.  “But he had an obligation to the citizens of Sierra County to be their sheriff."

Undersheriff Mike Apodaca took over the sheriff’s duties.  He said the sheriff is still in charge and manages the department through text messages.

"I talk to him on a daily basis either on the internet or through text messages," Undersheriff Apodaca said. 

County administrators said Baca has not returned their calls.  Calls made by 4 On Your Side were not returned either.  New Mexico law allows Baca to be away and get paid for it, but those who voted him in say he isn’t honoring the oath of office he swore to uphold.  He swore he would faithfully perform his duties, but most assumed he would perform his duties in the county he was elected in. 

Baca is double dipping, getting paid by the National Guard and by Sierra County.  Wednesday morning, Sierra County commissioners are expected to meet and vote to appoint a temporary sheriff and suspend Baca’s pay until he returns to work.