Sheriff’s office cuts Ok’d Thurston County commissioners formally approved layoffs in the sheriff’s office on Tuesday, an action that could draw union challenges and was characterized by Sheriff Dan Kimball as “fraught with peril.”
Two weeks ago, the commission approved a midyear budget amendment in its chief operating fund to account for declining tax revenues. On Tuesday, commissioners adjusted the position-control schedule that matches those budget dollars with jobs.
The adjustment will eliminate 30 positions and cut hours for six positions from several departments, effective June 1.
In the sheriff’s office, the last day of work will be May 31 for two legal assistants, a corrections captain and four commissioned jail staffers. The jobs of five other commissioned operations staffers are on the chopping block but could be saved.
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Commissioners also are taking steps to cut the salaries of four of the top managers in the sheriff’s office.
“I think this is the best solution we can come up with,” Commissioner Cathy Wolfe said. Wolfe and Commissioner Karen Valenzuela approved the reductions. Commissioner Sandra Romero was absent.
Tuesday’s action was the latest development in the ongoing dispute between the county commissioners and the sheriff over budget reductions.
In the midst of a budget crisis, commissioners say they need to take all necessary steps to save as many patrol deputies as possible to protect public safety.
Kimball maintains that the commissioners have overstepped their authority in telling an independently elected official how to run his office. He has said the commissioners’ action against his office is retaliation after he spoke out to the public about his own concerns about the scale of the budget cuts.
Wolfe, the board’s chairwoman, has denied that claim.
In amending the budget, commissioners took the rare step of issuing a proviso, or condition, that Kimball cut his command staff by a certain dollar amount to preserve as many deputies as possible.
Kimball responded with a proposal to use grant funding to keep the five operations staffers, including patrol deputies and detectives, on the job through Aug. 31, when the office should receive word of whether it’s awarded federal stimulus dollars. If awarded, the money will keep deputies on the job for at least three years. The sheriff’s office applied for enough money for 15 positions. Kimball refused to cut his command staffing, saying they’re a vital part of a law enforcement agency.
Commissioners were intrigued by the proposal but said they were put off by the fact that Kimball was ignoring their direction on command staff. They sought a balance with their action Tuesday by allowing operations staffers to stay on longer but also reducing the command structure – laying off the corrections captain and moving to cut other top salaries.
“I think the whole thing is fraught with peril,” Kimball said in response to commissioners’ action.
The union representing operations staffers has said it will sue the county if it lays off more deputies, claiming that would place the remaining deputies and residents at risk.
On Thursday, the five captains in the sheriff’s office filed paperwork with the state Public Employment Relations Commission to unionize as the feud between the elected officials continues.
“We felt we were being singled out and targeted, and we felt we had to take some steps to protect ourselves,” Capt. Mike Petrie said. He said the new bargaining unit would fight to save the captain’s position.
“I hope the commissioners have familiarized themselves with unfair labor practice laws,” he said.
Kimball said he expected his undersheriff and deputy chiefs also would fight the proposed wage cut. And he hasn’t ruled out taking legal action against the commissioners for their recent actions against his office.
“I’ll be reviewing all my options; I’ll leave it at that,” he said.