Community Editorial: Sheriff Lets Politics Trump Good Sense

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A man’s word is his bond.

But we at the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs are having a hard time believing the county of Orange when it gives its word.

The county and the Sheriff’s Department could have legally had civilian Correctional Service Assistants (CSAs) and the millions of dollars in associated cost savings in place in the county’s jails since 2008.

But the county once again allowed politics to interfere with good fiscal sense, choosing instead to assign CSAs to do work previously done by deputies without meeting and conferring with AOCDS as required by law.

Four years later we find ourselves enmeshed in yet another protracted court battle with the county of Orange simply because its leaders refuse to follow the law.

As the nation slipped further into an economic recession in 2008, AOCDS saw the writing on the economic wall and recognized something had to be done to help the Sheriff’s Department and the county weather tough economic times.

The deputies union has always supported the idea of CSAs, even to the point of suggesting in mid-2008 fast tracking their implementation to save the county money.

CSAs took duties previously assigned to deputies working in county jails beginning in July 2010. A change in working conditions requires the county to negotiate CSAs at main-table contract negotiations.

Collective bargaining allows workers to negotiate their hours and wages and have a say in working conditions. It is a process of give-and-take and compromise. It is also the law.

AOCDS has a proven track record of being part of the solution to the county’s fiscal problems. We were one of the last public safety groups in Orange County to receive 3 percent at 50. We were one of the first to contribute more to our pensions and one of the first to modify pensions by creating a new 3 percent at 55 for new hires.

The Sheriff’s Department agreed in October 2008 as part of another lawsuit settlement to negotiate CSAs as part of a new or extended contract. That never happened.

Despite the October 2008 agreement, the county repeatedly refused to negotiate CSAs, arguing they would have no impacts on deputies. This is patently untrue.

Law enforcement officers are trained to enforce the law. We are not going to stand idly and allow the county of Orange to operate outside of the law. AOCDS sued.

A deal is a deal. Unfortunately, this is a difficult concept for the county to grasp.

The county was forced to pay $1.3 million in legal fees to the deputies union after it lost its fight last year to roll back the county’s “3 percent at 50″ pension plan for deputies. That bill is on top of the more than $2 million the county had to pay their own lawyers in their failed legal battle. Taxpayers are footing the bill.

The county had an obligation under the law to meet and confer CSAs, and it failed miserably at every turn.

An appellate court unanimously ruled in favor of AOCDS and affirmed the lower court’s order that the county keep the number of CSAs at the staffing levels of Sept. 24, 2010.

Instead of abiding by the order, the county continued recruiting and hiring CSAs. The county admitted in open court last week that the number of CSAs has grown from 35 to 141.

The county was obligated under the appellate court ruling to remove the additional CSAs from their positions. Instead, the county thumbed its nose at the courts by keeping them in place — a clear violation of the law.

On Monday, Orange County Superior Court Judge Franz Miller ordered AOCDS and the county to negotiate CSAs but refused to remove the additional CSAs from their positions.

Miller’s ruling rewards the county’s bad behavior by allowing the Sheriff’s Department to circumvent the law and keep the CSAs in place. The county can now declare impasse during negotiations and unilaterally impose what it wants.

This legal battle is far from over.

Once again the county is playing politics at the expense of fiscal prudence — and the taxpayers are the ones paying the price.

Kimberly Edds is a Voice of OC Community Editorial Board member and communications director for the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs.

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