Pima County is once again threatened with a lawsuit over a pay plan for deputies and corrections officers. Notice of claim letters were delivered last week to the county administrator, board of supervisors and Sheriff Mark Napier.
A union leader says this issue boils down to another broken campaign promise that's further eroding morale in the department. Sheriff Napier promised to clean up corruption after a money laundering scandal rocked the department, but our more than year-long investigation has revealed the department is still mired in controversy.
And now -- this pay issue.
Sheriff Napier vowed to fix the Step Program, which promised annual raises to deputies and corrections officers, but Napier said the county hadn't done in years.
Napier campaigned that he would "work tirelessly to have the step plan funded in perpetuity" and would find ways "to save funds that could be redirected to funding the step plan." But the attorney representing the deputies and corrections officers (PCDSA and PCCOA) claims that's not happening.
Steve Portell wrote: Napier announced to staff a few weeks ago "the Step program is dead and is never coming back."
And Napier "had already reached agreement with the County Administrator Chuck Huckleberry for his new military-style pay package that replaced the Step Program entirely."
Portell says the sheriff is not only making unilateral decisions, he's illegally stepping out of bounds because his new merit based pay system has not been properly vetted and approved.
We reached out to the county administrator, board of supervisors and the sheriff. All responded and stated they couldn't comment on pending litigation.
But the sheriff added this statement."I have been working with County Administration to find a path toward sustainable, fiscally responsible, merit-based compensation reform. We still have some details to be ironed out regarding the plan, but it has the conceptual support of the County Administrator and we have worked very hard to find cost savings at the department to fiscally support it."
Napier sent a memo to staff December 11th stating "Huckleberry agreed to support our compensation reform plan." But Portell tells us Napier's claim is not true and Napier doesn't have county approval.
We obtained public records from the County Administrator's Office that reveal just last week Huckleberry had concerns not only about Napier's revised pay plan, but the sheriff's claim that it would save over 2 million dollars in less than a year.
According to notice, four deputies, who have been denied raises, are demanding settlements totaling half a million dollars. The county has less than 60 days to resolve this issue -- or a lawsuit will be filed.
Portell, who says he's never commented on potential or pending ligation, sent this statement to KGUN9. "The Sheriff's December 11th memorandum breaks his two biggest campaign promises: (1) that he would clean up corruption in the department, and (2) he would address the broken compensation system that has caused morale and employee retention problems. This is not the leadership the deputies were promised. This is not the leadership Pima County residents were promised. On behalf of over 600 of our County's most dedicated law enforcement officers, I must say that disappointment does not begin to describe the situation with the Sheriff's Department."
We'll continue to investigate -- and bring you reports in the coming weeks.