Answers to questions pointed at Curry County Sheriff’s Department

By John Bishop, Curry County Sheriff April 09, 2011 04:00 am

In a letter to the editor, (Pilot, April 6) Bruce Warren asked several questions about county government but pointed mainly at the sheriff’s office.

Most of these questions have been previously answered in news articles or forum pieces, but I will address them again in this letter.

•The land clearing at the Brookings Airport was not conducted by the sheriff’s office, and I had no input on this issue, other than I did (and still do) need a search and rescue building. The land was cleared as part of an airport project and was looked at to see if it was suitable for a search and rescue building – as such it qualified for Federal Title III money which saved the county money for having the land cleared. As politics became involved between former commissioners, and other opportunities presented themselves, this building was put on hold. The land/political issues as far as I am aware of have been settled.

•Regarding Mr. Warren’s assumption or wording of a “wrongful termination” pay out, and whose decision it was. I cannot go into specifics of the incidents that led up to Mr. Longton’s termination; I can tell you in my opinion and every attorney who was consulted, the termination was absolutely justified; Mr. Longton disagreed and, being a member of a public employees union, filed a grievance which is his right to do so. My command staff and I were confident in our ability to win this grievance as we felt we had an excellent case. However the county’s attorney felt that anytime we go to arbitration by its design it is a 50/50 chance, no matter how good the case is, and this settlement was the least expensive course of action the County could follow, not only to take care of the grievance but the tort claim as well.

The bottom line in this situation is that a significant conduct issue had to be handled, and it was. The very unpleasant fact that in today’s world of public employers negotiating with unions over issues of conflicts, around an employee discipline, management just can’t win. When the union employee grieves the employer’s decision to impose some form of discipline, the result of not resolving the grievance is arbitration, where a “non-biased” person from the outside hears both sides and has final say on how the issue is to be resolved. The cost of going through arbitration is typically far beyond the amount of any settlement reached prior to arbitration. This is definitely true in this case, and when you add the costs of defending the tort claim, the county had to weigh the cost of settlement against the cost of winning in arbitration, and the tort claim, as well as look at the worst case scenario of some chance you lose. In that light it was a fairly straight-forward business decision. I don’t like it, and I don’t expect you to like it either. The alternative however is to not take appropriate disciplinary action and turn over complete control of employee management to the unions. I will not allow that to happen on my watch.

•Mr. Warren makes reference in another letter last week about closing the substation in Harbor to save money. It costs the county approximately $8,000 to have this office open, and we have great volunteers to staff the office. The substation houses our juvenile department and community corrections deputies, as well as provides the patrol deputies an office to conduct interviews and write reports. Utilizing this office also allows the citizens to stay in Brookings-Harbor to report crimes, apply for concealed weapons permits etc. The price of the substation is more than justified to remain open. (I would also like to thank C&K Markets for working with the county it making this possible) 

•The last issue which was questioned was the county being self insured. I have no say so in the matter of “if” our vehicles are self insured or not. This is a commissioner decision, as all money matters for the county are. However, there is some confusion on this matter. First of all to address any concerns about the county not being able to pay if an employee was in an accident. The county has liability insurance and doesn’t have collision and comprehensive insurance. If the county is in an accident and there were law suits due to negligence or injury, the county is covered by insurance. Only the vehicle or county property is self covered. The commissioners have assured me we can replace the vehicle, but at this time we have the state fire marshall, Chrysler, and other experts looking at the vehicle to see what caused the fire as it may be a warranty issue as well as a safety issue for all of our deputies.

Mr. Warren brings up excellent points. Mr. Warren, you have every right to know what is going on in the county regarding your money. I would encourage you to call me or any official when you have a question.

I can tell you from my perspective we are doing everything we can to cut our costs. The sheriff’s office alone has cut costs significantly in operations, by the use of grants, better management, as well as working with our partners in the county and state. Do we make mistakes, yes, but we try to learn from them and move on. The bottom line is, there is a cost to doing business, and we are trying to minimize that cost every day.