Sheriff explains his plan to reorganize administrative staff

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I want to discuss with readers Tuesday’s U-B article regarding Sheriff’s Office employees.

One side of the issue at hand is about the positions, job duties, job descriptions and appropriate salaries that are assigned by the county’s Board of Commissioners. 

When Undersheriff Eddie Freyer and our administrative assistant recently left for other opportunities, it provided a great opportunity for us to re-evaluate how we use our resources and provide public service. It was during this review process that other issues emerged.

The other side of this same issue is about managing risk, potential liability and our plan to address possible disparate treatment of similarly situated public employees; a risk that could cost our county far more than any particular salary increase to any specific employee.

The plan proposed on Monday with the concurrence of the county’s Civil Service Commission and county’s personnel/risk manager fits entirely within the current Sheriff’s Office budget. It will not cost our taxpayers any additional money. In fact, it actually saves money.

Maybe I see things differently due to my experience as a police attorney, but part of my job as sheriff is to spot potential risks, address them and minimize liabilities to our county.

This particular Sheriff’s Office issue was generated by the need for job descriptions that were nonexistent when I became sheriff, and the need for review due to a Sheriff’s Office precedent set by the job duties of the former administration’s undersheriff, Carole Lepiane. The current chief administrative deputy’s duties not only mirror the former undersheriff duties, they clearly exceed them. In this arena of law, the job titles are less relevant than the job duties performed.

The personnel manager, in her Jan. 30 memo to the county commissioners, stated “that the CAD (Chief Administrative Deputy) has a significant amount of responsibility and important high-level job functions that correspond to the other two Chief Deputy positions within the Sheriff’s Office and with certain other positions within the County.” In her footnote, the personnel manager advised that “while no positions are directly comparable, certain positions have similar responsibilities from a managerial or financial perspective.”

Currently, the two other male Sheriff’s Office chief deputies’ salaries are the same and significantly higher than the female chief deputy’s salary. The personnel manager then listed three other county managers with significantly higher salaries than the Sheriff’s Office chief administrative deputy. Commissioner Greg Tompkins’ comment that she (the current chief administrative deputy) is a “glorified secretary” does not help matters.

The personnel manager’s memo continued: “Certain duties — such as ensuring that labor contracts are properly followed, records management, tracking budget capacity, monitoring expenditures, supervising staff’s access to sensitive law enforcement materials — are all high-risk and high-responsibility areas, with the ability to have significant impact on the County’s overall financial health. Further, it appears that many of these duties were formerly accomplished by the SO Undersheriff, where the position was compensated at a higher level.

“In my review of the materials, however, I do not believe that the requested salary for the Chief Administrative Deputy would be out of line with current County salary structure, due to the high-level of risk and responsibility associated with the position. As such, I would have no concerns from a personnel policy perspective of the BOCC granting the Sheriff’s requests delineated in his memorandum and passing a resolution setting salaries at the levels he proposes.”

Because this office has never had these job descriptions to our knowledge, the Civil Service Commission, the personnel manager and I agreed that it was important to get them done. During that process, the similarity of job duties to the former undersheriff and disparity in pay came to light. Once it came to light, we all couldn’t very well act as if it didn’t exist. Much research and talk took place over the last two months as to how to best handle the facts as they presented themselves to us.

The previous undersheriff was a civilian employee who had served as a clerk/dispatcher prior to appointment as undersheriff. I believe that an undersheriff of a law enforcement agency should be a seasoned, commissioned peace officer, and thus I was unwilling to promote the current chief administrative deputy to undersheriff, but the need to address the disparities still remained. 

Let’s face it, when Undersheriff Freyer left the agency, it would have been far easier for me to just appoint the current chief administrative deputy as the undersheriff, but I truly believe that isn’t the right thing to do, so I didn’t do it.

I believe I had figured out a way to address the disparity, add 56 clerical labor-hours each week (which we desperately need), save about $13,000 dollars per year, completely eliminate any human resources risk to the county due to the disparity issue, and do it all within my current budget. T

This plan does not require any additional taxpayer dollars, in fact, it saves money. This plan was discussed, reviewed, and concurred with by the Civil Service Commission and personnel manager, who both sent memos to the Board of Commissioners to the same effect.

I didn’t create this issue, but I recognize it’s my job to try to find and propose solutions that fit within my budget. This current proposal accomplishes this professionally, legally and appropriately.

The Civil Service Commission, personnel manager and I have all agreed upon the job descriptions presented on Monday. It’s simply now the county commissioners’ job to weigh the human resources risk and set appropriate salaries for the job descriptions as approved by the Civil Service Commission and personnel manager; positions which are authorized by RCW 41.14.070. 

When you take the personalities and emotions out of it, it’s really that simple. 

As sheriff, I am passionate and loyal to the employees of the Sheriff’s Office, but my ultimate responsibility is to you, the taxpayers and citizens of Walla Walla County. My decisions are made with that responsibility in mind.

Sheriff John A. Turner can be reached at (509) 524-5400 or jturner@co.walla-walla.wa.us

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