No changes to OCSO’s certificate pay — for now

Sheriff Keith Merritt (seated) and deputy sheriffs with the OCSO

The news at the Orange County Commissioners Court regular meeting was that there would be no changes for certificate pay to the Orange County’s Sheriff’s Office Employees Union — for now.

The commissioners met Tuesday afternoon, March 28, in the Orange County Administration Building to deliberate continuing the certificate pay— or pay for further education — that started with the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the county and the union covering Oct. 1, 2009, through Sept. 30, 2013. The vote passed 3 to 2 with Commissioners Johnny Trahan, Barry Burton and John Gothia voting aye and County Judge Brint Carlton and Commissioner Jody Crump voting no.

With the vote, the court approved keeping certificate pay through May 7, ending 30 days after commissioners meet April 4 for a workshop in executive session to review the CBA and previous negotiations. Trahan and Gothia requested the workshop because they were elected in November and said they would like to be brought up to speed.

Carlton said at the beginning of Tuesday’s meeting this issue was talked about at length at last week’s meeting and for the past six months.

Crump said the certificate pay could always be negotiated in a future contract.

The agenda item submitted by Carlton reads certificate pay was only agreed to be paid during Fiscal Year 2009-2010, FY 2010-2011 and FY 2011-2012.

The agreement was originally set to expire at the end of FY 2012-2013 and certificate pay was not promised in FY 2012-2013. Commissioners voluntarily paid the certificate pay during FY 2012-2013, without further consideration or written bilateral modification of the agreement, and have continued to pay certificate pay since.

However, the court is not contractually obligated to continue doing so per Orange County District Attorney’s memo dated Sept. 6, 2013. Additionally, the approximately $320,000 in certificate pay (for 2017) was not budget for this FY.

Burton said he favored keeping certificate pay through April and having everyone come to the table in 30 days and get it solved by making a new contract.

Trahan thought this was a “short window” to get things done, a sentiment echoed by Gothia, but Burton said everyone on the court knew about the issue.

Burton said he wanted to stick with the 30-day window and support a two-week extension if need be.

“I’m tired of the adversarial relationship we have with the sheriff’s office. We need to get to the table and get this solved and close on this,” Burton said. “I’m looking forward to some positive things.”

Trahan deemed a workshop on the background necessary because, “It’s hard to vote on something when you don’t know what the conflict is.”

Sgt. Jimmy LeBoeuf with the sheriff’s office employee association said the organization sent a letter to Carlton on March 8 stating their attorney had not heard from his attorney. LeBoeuf said the union doesn’t want an adversarial relationship with the court but that the judge sued the union.

“That automatically carries an adversarial relationship. There are some hurt feelings,” he said.

He added that the case might end up in civil court with more costs to taxpayers, and the Commissioners Court will also have to face the court of public opinion.

Resident Kim Williford said her sister was murdered by her husband Oct. 6, 2006. Without the training of Detectives Joey Jacobs and Tom Ray in the OCSO, her death would had been ruled a suicide rather than a homicide with the murderer walking away.

“I told them it’s a debt I can never repay,” she said, sobbing. “They said they were just doing their job.

“If you take away certificate pay, officers will seek employment elsewhere, and it might be your loved one who is murdered, and you need someone who knows what they’re doing.”

Resident Jimmy Burnett said the contract was a bad one to begin with and the union and the county are stuck with it.

He added that one group shouldn’t be treated any differently than another group in negotiations.

“Maybe you need to go find another job. This needs to be fixed. Y’all need to get in a room and get this fixed,” he said. “I have a .45 (pistol) and I don’t need the sheriff’s office. You don’t pay my fees or taxes.”

Resident Woodrow Dugas told the commissioners they are the servants of the people who take care of the majority of the taxpayers and not just one group.

Merritt said he was pleased Burton “stepped forward” to get this over with and get everyone back to the negotiating table. When the county sued the sheriff’s office employees association in 2013, he as the sheriff was a party to the suit, he said.

Carlton held a town hall meeting last month about the county having to pay $3.2 million to the family of Robert Montano, who died while in custody in the Orange County Correctional Facility in 2011. The meeting served as a question and answer session for citizens.

Merritt, however, did not attend the town hall meeting, and he believes this certificate pay issue is payback from Carlton.

“It sure appears that way. Just the timing of it,” Merritt said. “Doing this in August 2013 would’ve made more sense. It raises suspicions.”

Carlton said everyone on the court wants a new contract with the OCSO.

“It’s up to the union members and the sheriff. Not just the court. There’s no holdup on our end,” he said.

Carlton added as far as a payback to the OCSO, he said they voted for six months to stop proceedings, long before the county had the opinion from the Fifth Circuit Court about the Montano case stating the county must pay the family.