Highland County sheriff: ‘Numbers do not lie’ in union agreement


Highland County Sheriff Donnie Barrera on Monday voiced his opposition to the union labor contract between the county and the sheriff’s office, saying he will not sign the contract because he believes the wage table and provisions in the document do not paint an accurate picture of the actual wage increase employees will receive or what the contract will cost.

The contract, which county commissioners approved last week, gives hourly sheriff’s office employees a 2-percent raise each year for the next two years, although commissioners said the raises in the first year could be as much as 4 percent due to step raises and other provisions added into the contract. The agreement is retroactive to Jan. 1, 2018.

Barrera said in his Monday statement that it was the additions to the contract that gave him pause.

“I do not believe the wage table and provisions accurately describe the wage increase resulting from negotiations,” he said. “While I could suggest a number for the cost of this new wage and benefit plan, I would suggest that those interested obtain the former agreement and compare it to the current one. The numbers do not lie.”

The sheriff said he will not sign the contract because “I do not believe it was negotiated on my behalf.”

Until last Wednesday, when the contract was approved, the county had been in negotiations with the Fraternal Order of Police, the union representing the sheriff’s office, since late last year.

The parties came up with a tentative contract at the beginning of August, which Barrera refused to sign.

Barrera was not in attendance when commissioners approved the contract last Wednesday.

In previous weeks, Barrera declined to comment on why he wouldn’t endorse the agreement other than saying he disagreed with some of its provisions.

In his statement Monday, Barrera said he “wanted to respond to requests for information about labor negotiations,” adding, “I must say I do not agree with the results of negotiations, and I made my disagreement known to all parties involved.”

Highland County Commissioner Jeff Duncan said when the sheriff’s office budget was written for 2018, officials accounted for a 3-percent raise in the department’s salaries line item. But due to the addition of two extra step increases negotiated into the contract, Duncan said, “we think we’re coming in between three and a half and four percent, which is a little more than we anticipated.”

In the second year of the contract, the increase will be a flat 2 percent, he said.

“We’ve been working on it since November, and here we are in August and we’re still dealing with this,” Duncan said. “That’s why we decided to get something moving here… Did we give up a little more than we should have? That remains to be seen.”

Highland County Commissioner Gary Abernathy said he shares many of the sheriff’s concerns.

“I understand why he’s upset about this contract,” Abernathy said. “What bothers me most is that we were being assured by our negotiator all along that this contract amounted to no more than a two-percent to a two-and-a-quarter-percent increase, but when you calculate it based on additional step raises and other changes, it’s more like a four-percent increase in the first year.”

Abernathy said in addition to the financial issue, “I think the sheriff is concerned about some of the managerial controls that he’s lost in this contract and I don’t blame him for being upset about that.”

Abernathy said if he is still on the commission next year when the contract is renegotiated, “I look forward to making sure (Barrera’s) concerns are much more carefully addressed,” along with “some of the finer points of the contract.”

Abernathy added that he was glad to see sheriff’s deputies getting raises.

“They deserve it,” he said.

Barrera said in his statement that he could offer examples of “more discrepancies, but it makes no difference in the outcome.”

“I look forward to negotiations in the future to correct many of the problems I see with the labor agreement,” he said.

Barrera could not be reached for further comment Monday.

Commissioner Terry Britton did not immediately return a call for comment.

Reach David Wright at 937-402-2570.

Sheriff Barrera breaks silence on labor contract

By David Wright

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