CLEAT's backing bolsters OC deputies
Last updated 9/7/2021 at 11:37pm
If you’re scoring at home on the secretive backroom meetings between Orange County and its sheriff deputies, well, chalk up one for the deputies.
County Judge John Gothia said Tuesday afternoon that Commissioners Court had agreed to extend the pre-impasse deadline for an additional 15 days to Sept. 22 and proposed three dates, at 2 p.m. Sept. 13, 2 p.m. Sept. 15 and 2 p.m. Sept. 16 for open-to-the-public negotiations.
Tuesday’s announcement came after the issuance of two grievances against Orange County and Sheriff Lane Mooney by CLEAT, the Combined Law Enforcement Association, which represents the deputies’ group, known as the Orange County Sheriff’s Office Employees Association.
The first grievance on Sept. 1 said Mooney made a unilateral decision in early August to do away with the deputies’ long-held benefit of take-home vehicles, but let it be known that the take-home vehicles benefit would be reinstated if the association signed off on the county’s proposed agreement.
Senior staff maintained its take-home vehicles, the grievance said.
“My response to that,” Mooney said, “is right now, I do not have a comment on it. But I will in the future.”
The second grievance on Sept. 3 accused the county and sheriff of violating Chapter 174 of the Texas Local Government Code by failing to conduct negotiations in open meetings.
It also said the county and sheriff are interfering with the deputies’ freedom of association rights, saying Gothia issued a take-it-or-leave-it agreement and then “continuously contacted Association members hounding them to rush a vote on the proposal.”
It says along with Gothia’s pressure to accept an agreement presented outside of open meetings, that Mooney has threatened “to eliminate, alter or change long-standing benefits.”
The grievance says the sheriff and his personal staff has “let it be known” any officer signing their name to a grievance would be terminated.
Additionally, the document signed by Dustin Bock, the OCSOEA President, says Mooney and his staff have threatened to prohibit off-duty jobs and switch all deputies to eight-hour shifts, both of which would take a big bite out of deputies’ wallets.
The deputies’ association has between 150 and 175 members.
Tuesday’s Commissioners Court meeting lasted nine minutes, except for a 55 minute-long closed meeting “regarding ongoing deliberations concerning a new Collective Bargaining Agreement.”
It was the second week in a row for a closed-door executive session with the same heading, and the agenda item included, again, the note that court may convene a closed session if Commissioners unanimously vote and the court’s attorney, Assistant District Attorney Denise Gremillion, issues a written determination that “deliberation in an open meeting would have a detrimental effect on the court in said negotiations.”
Besides the five Commissioners Court members, Mooney, Gremillion and the county’s Human Resources Director Lori Ardoin, took part in both meetings. There was no representation from the deputies’ association.
Asked about it on Aug. 31 and again Tuesday,
Gothia said that talks began with the association’s leaders in April on a new deal to replace an expiring set of work rules (CBA) signed in September 2019.
“We met several times at their requests in informal meetings,” the judge said. “I have seven [versions] of contracts on my desk, changes we’ve made. We sent them the last contract last week and haven’t heard back.”
Gothia cited a lot of turnover with the deputies’ association.
“We originally started with one organization [TMPA] representing them and in the last couple of weeks they’ve changed [to CLEAT],” he said.
“Dustin Bock is the third or fourth OCSOEA president we’ve dealt with.”
Bock was unavailable to comment Tuesday, though his words were clear on the two notices of grievance, which carried his signature.
And he did send members of the Commissioners Court a letter on the association’s behalf thanking them for the extension of the pre-impasse deadline.
“I would like to reiterate that our goal of an extension request was to facilitate face-to-face negotiations,” he said in the letter.
“You are aware that there have been several telephone discussions between the parties. I know you are also aware that these telephone discussions were not the appropriate or legal way to negotiate as required.”
The Aug. 31 closed session regarding the CBA ended in a seven-day extension to Sept. 7.
Gothia explained that he needed to know how much to budget for the deputy pay and benefits before presenting the budget for a vote Sept. 14.
Charley Wilkison, executive director of CLEAT, was happy with Tuesday’s turn.
“The bottom line is all the wrong things that were done are correctable,” he said. “The county made an effort once we called them on it. They said, ‘Yes, we’ll meet.’
“When someone pays to join CLEAT, it [CLEAT’s backing] doesn’t go away. We will sue them to the end of the world if we need to.
“But that’s not what we want.”