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By Dave Rogers
For the Record 

County, Sheriff, deputies agree on CBA


Last updated 12/7/2021 at 7:59pm

Orange County Commissioners did something Tuesday their predecessors had whiffed on for over a decade.

County Commissioners Johnny Trahan, Theresa Beauchamp, Robert Viator and Kirk Roccaforte joined County Judge John Gothia in approving a collective bargaining agreement between the county, the sheriff and his deputies.

Gothia added his signature to Sheriff Jimmy Lane Mooney and Dustin Bock, president of the Orange County Sheriff’s Office Employees Association, and the county had its first new CBA since 2009.

“It’s a great day for everybody,” Beauchamp said.

The old agreement had existed for so long because it had an “evergreen” clause that allowed it to stay in force until a new one was agreed upon.

Former Sheriff Keith Merritt refused to take part in the bargaining after 2009, when the then-new sheriff agreed to a CBA that included a “just cause” provision, which meant he couldn’t hire and fire, or discipline deputies without a review board’s OK.

The new CBA has no evergreen clause. The work contract for the deputies expires in two fiscal years, on Sept. 30, 2023, with a two-year grace period to replace it.

This contract still has the “just cause” provision, but if a disciplined sheriff employee who files a grievance appeals the early decisions, it will ultimately be settled by a district court judge.

Under the old CBA, the final step was binding arbitration and employers never think they get a fair shake in arbitration. During two public bargaining sessions, Gothia and the commissioners were strenuously opposed to arbitration.

“We had a contract that has not been renewed since 2009 and I wanted to acknowledge that a lot of people went without any additional pay for a long time,” Gothia said.

“But with all three parties working together to get to a common goal and make sure we can continue to protect our citizens and protect our officers as well as have reasonable benefits for them as well.

“Not everybody got what they wanted, but everybody got something in it, so that we could all settle on a place. That’s what negotiation is. I’m extremely happy we’re here.”

Mooney was unable to attend Tuesday’s meeting but Chief Deputy Keith Reneau said the sheriff was happy with the compromises made.

Reneau said deputies are being allowed once again to drive their patrol cars home at night.

The deputies association filed a grievance in September against the sheriff for using the car issue as a bargaining chip to get the deputies to agree to a new contract.

Reneau said Tuesday that “about 85” of the approximate 125 eligible deputies were dues-paying members of the association but that all will be covered by the new agreement.

He said a large majority of the association’s membership voted to approve the CBA.

Bock was not available for comment Tuesday.

The contract gives the deputies the same 50-cent per hour raise all other county employees received under the budget that took effect Oct. 1, as well as a “me too” agreement, meaning the deputies get the same improvements in benefits as regular county employees.

New benefits include granting the deputies a third week of vacation in their first year and a new comp time policy.

Before it had taken five years of employment to earn a third week. The county has never had a comp time policy. The deputies will be able to bank up to 40 hours of comp time.

In other action Tuesday, the county acknowledged paying $9,917 in Nov. 30 bills and signed off on $558,490 for the week ended Dec. 7.

A total of 45 new COVID-19 cases – 11 confirmed by lab tests, 34 “probable” quick tests -- were logged in the last week in Orange County.

Three were hospitalized, one required a ventilator. None of the 45 were vaccinated, said Joel Ardoin, the county’s emergency management coordinator.

“We expected an uptick with the holidays,” he said.

Ardoin was singled out by Gothia at the start of the meeting, saying the Sabine Neches Chiefs Association had recognized the region’s county judges and their emergency management coordinators.

Gothia said that Southeast Texas was the first area in Texas to set up regional testing sites, the first to set up a vaccination clinic and the first to offer an infusion center.

“There was no manual for COVID,” the County Judge said, “so we basically wrote the book, with a lot of extra hours by Joel. Thank you, Joel.”


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