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Look them in the eye and tell them what you think

Editorial By Bobby Tingle

 

Your Orange County Commissioners are listening and they need to hear from you. I witnessed the process, Tuesday, when I attended their regular meeting. You should plan to attend and join the conversation.

Judge Stephen Brint Carlton presided over the meeting. Attending were Commissioners from precincts one, two, three and four; Johnny Trahan, Barry Burton, John Gothia and Jody Crump.

The courtroom was packed, almost to overflowing.

Nearly half a dozen citizens rose to address the court during the scheduled time set aside for citizen comments.

The court considered several items. First, they paid two bills; one to United Health Care in the amount of $67, 286.11 for Retiree Group Health Insurance and the other was in the amount of $333,210.00 to Way Service which was the 2nd payment for Job No: JB702 Orange County BES. The total amount of these payments is $400,496.11.

Next, the court heard from County Auditor Penee Schmidt, who delivered the Monthly Financial Report for fiscal year to date January 31, 2017 and February 28, 2017.

Next the court considered action related to Sheriff’s Officers certificate pay. I will comment more about that later.

Item four, on the agenda, related to action on a bid submitted for a trust property while item five related to a transfer of $219.23 from one county account to another.

Citizens were then given the opportunity to speak for three minutes before the court and, as mentioned earlier, about half a dozen rose to take advantage of that opportunity. Items seven through ten required the court to hold closed meetings to hold discussions with Assistant County Attorney Douglas E. Manning. The first regarded arbitration proceedings involving former Orange County Sheriff’s Office employee, Kevin Tate. The other was the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s threatened litigation concerning the American Legion war memorial on the courthouse lawn. The court took no action on either.

Pretty mundane stuff, I would say.

However, back to item three, Sheriff’s Officer certificate pay.

The county, based on an expired agreement, pays sheriff’s office employees for advanced and/or continuing education related to their job duties. Apparently, successful completion of the training results in the awarding of a certificate to the employee. Since the advanced and/or continuing education enhances the ability of the employee to perform their duties, the county has agreed to compensate the employee for their acquired expertise.

The discussion, on Tuesday, listed as item three on the agenda, was to consider the continuation of certificate pay. The court has continued to pay sheriff’s employees since it began doing so October 1, 2009. However, the agreement dictating certificate pay expired September 30, 2013.

According to the explanation on the agenda item the court is not obligated to continue certificate pay and has excluded it from the current budget, which went into effect October 1, 2016.

During the discussion, Carlton and Crump acknowledged, as a result of their participation in collective bargaining negotiations with the sheriff officers association, to having the most knowledge of the history of this issue. Burton spoke out in favor of the two groups coming together and formulating a new agreement. He was adamant in his opinion both parties were capable of doing so. Gothia and Trahan were concerned about their knowledge gap. Each was sworn into office effective January 1, 2017. They expressed the sentiment that they had not yet had enough time to consider the history of this issue to acquire the necessary background for making an informed decision.

In the end, the commissioners decided to terminate certificate pay May 8, 2017. As a part of their decision they also scheduled an executive session for April 4, 2017 to discuss the history of this issue.

The primary concern here is the sheriff’s office employees and their compensation. The men and women employed by the county serve and protect the citizens of Orange County. Their service is appreciated and necessary.

The secondary issue is the effective management of the tax dollars entrusted to commissioners by tax paying citizens of Orange County.

This is your local government at work. Local citizens elected to serve. Local citizens employed to serve. Local citizens making their feelings known.

Bobby Tingle is publisher of The Orange Leader. You can reach him at bobby.tingle@orangeleader.com.