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Orange County supervisors are apparently mired in a battle against themselves over stalled salary talks affecting nearly 2,000 deputy sheriffs.
Labor negotiations, now nearly two years old, have been at impasse for more than a week, apparently stalled over a deputy demand that full enforcement of their required pension payments be matched with a salary hike.
On Tuesday, supervisors are scheduled to enter what is expected to be a tense closed session to discuss potential terms meant to end the impasse.
Two county supervisors who lead opposing factions have gone public with their distaste for the other’s approach.
Supervisor Todd Spitzer has argued that the two sides should have avoided declaring impasse because it sends a wrong message to rank-and-file deputies.
Meanwhile, supervisors’ Chairman Shawn Nelson and Supervisor John Moorlach have taken a much tougher stance, saying the county doesn’t have the money to hand out significant raises.
Negotiations with other unions have settled without any getting meaningful raises to make up for employee pension payments.
The approach by Nelson and Moorlach has rankled Spitzer, even though he supports having deputies pay their full share of pension payments.
Nelson has argued that Spitzer is trying to have it both ways.
“It’s become painfully obvious to me that Todd decided that somehow, someway he was going to get credit from the deputies and the hard-liners,” Nelson said.
In an interview on Monday afternoon, Nelson said he no longer trusts Spitzer at the negotiating table.
“I don’t know if I want to go back into closed session with him [Spitzer],” Nelson said about Tuesday’s closed session. “He lacks integrity.”
Spitzer is firing right back at Nelson.
“If Shawn doesn’t want to participate, no one is forcing him,” Spitzer said. “I would prefer he participate in the discussions, but I don’t think he’s necessary to get an agreement.”
“I made it very clear: I didn’t want to go to impasse,” Spitzer said.
Spitzer said Nelson’s refusal to consider deal points earlier this month in closed session forced him into public.
“We’ve gone back and forth on scenarios over months,” Spitzer said . “We’re down to one last deal point. And so the board deserves the right to go in [to closed session Tuesday] and discuss it.”
Meanwhile, Nelson said Spitzer’s jockeying and private negotiations with the deputies union have undercut the Board of Supervisors and complicated labor talks.
“We are paying a lot of money to professional negotiators, but if Todd is going to go and unravel the deal because he has some personal folly he’s pursuing, it’s disrespectful to the taxpayers,” Nelson said. “It’s not the way we do business.”
Spitzer last month said he was unhappy about reaching impasse and attempted to broker a counter. Those efforts failed apparently when Nelson refused to hold a second closed session meeting to consider final counter points.
Moorlach deferred to Nelson when a reporter asked for his comments on the situation late last week. But in an email to supporters sent earlier this month, he also took issue with Spitzer’s approach in his April 21 “Moorlach Update” :
I asked the Chair to call a special closed session meeting, which occurred a week ago Friday, in order to clarify one of the components of the counter that was agreed to the previous Tuesday. Everything was clearly spelled out in writing and agreed to by the conclusion of the Friday afternoon session. I thought that the Board had made some significant concessions. Second, the following week Supervisor Spitzer decided that he did not agree with one of the components that he had previously agreed to and requested yet another special closed session. This request was declined by the Chair, as the proposal was thoroughly discussed in the special closed session and other Supervisors had notes reflecting and concurring with the results.
Spitzer has said he is deeply troubled by the confrontational nature of the relationship between the board and deputies. He said he’s worried about morale and pointed out that the Sheriff’s Department ranks 16th out of 22 law enforcement agencies in Orange County when it comes to pay and benefits.
“I’m concerned, and I know the sheriff [Sandra Hutchens] is concerned about recruitment and retention,” Spitzer said. “I don’t want to turn Orange County into Los Angeles.”
Yet Nelson said Spitzer was the lead in closed session on the offer that deputies eventually refused.
“If he’s going to object, then tell us. Don’t lead us into a trap,” Nelson said. “It’s so dishonest.”
“Todd wasted significant resources of the taxpayers by screwing up negotiations. And we know he did it on purpose.”
In a statement late Monday, Tom Dominguez, president of the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriff’s, disputed Nelson’s notion that Spitzer stepped over the line in negotiations.
“We reached out to every single member of the Board of Supervisors repeatedly in an effort to educate them on the facts pertaining to these complex negotiations,” Dominguez said. “The concerns Supervisor Spitzer has regarding recruitment and retention of experienced law enforcement professionals are legitimate.”
With county coffers tight, whatever concessions county supervisors make on deputy salaries won’t be fully understood by the public until a supplemental budget item makes its way to the full board later this summer — several months after two longtime incumbents, Supervisors Janet Nguyen and Pat Bates, have already gotten past their primary election battles for State Senate this June.
According to budget experts close to the deal, every 1-percent salary raise the supervisors grant deputies translates into $2.8 million from the general fund.
For perspective, consider that most of the Sheriff Department’s budget of $530 million is made up of salaries — around $456 million. Last year, the department had to seek a supplemental request of about $15 million in late summer as a result of revenue adjustments and special needs. They got about $12 million.
Budget managers expect this year’s budget to grow by about 5.6 percent. That’s without any impact from negotiations.
Any salary increases will come on top of that growth.