Sheriff’s deputies union, county commissioners clash in Thursday meeting

Tulsa Co SO badge

The head of the Tulsa County deputy sheriffs’ union and the Tulsa County Commission clashed over pay and “negativity” during a 40-minute discussion Thursday morning.

Fraternal Order of Police President Travis Jones, backed by more than two dozen deputies, said the three county commissioners are chiefly responsible for what he said is lagging pay and insufficient funding of the Tulsa County jail.

Commissioner John Smaligo, who did most of the talking for the commission, said the county sheriff, not the commission or the county budget board, determines pay scales.

“You three (commissioners) are the biggest part of (county government),” Jones countered. “We want to be fairly compensated, and we want to be treated right.”

“Your argument is not with the budget board,” Smaligo said. “It’s with the elected official who operates the Sheriff’s Office, which is the sheriff.”

That office is operating under its second acting sheriff since longtime Sheriff Stanley Glanz resigned amid scandal last year. A new sheriff will be elected in April.

The budget board, which is made up of all elected county officials, divides county revenue among the various offices, including the Sheriff’s Office.

Specific budget decisions are then made within the individual offices.

The deputies union, however, contends the Sheriff’s Office has been “bullied” by the commissioners into accepting unworkable budgets and axing planned pay raises. The union is also upset by what it says are negative comments by Smaligo and Commission Chairwoman Karen Keith.

Specifically, they don’t like Smaligo’s attempts to put management of the county jail out for bid by private contractors, and Keith’s remark several weeks ago that the Sheriff’s Office has been a “gift that keeps on giving” to the local news media.

Keith said she was referring to a series of incidents and revelations related to Glanz’s resignation, and not to Sheriff’s Office personnel in general.

“There was nothing that was incorrect about that statement,” Smaligo said. “It’s a hard reality. But it is a reality, and it is one that was not created by the county commissioners.”

Jones said he was not satisfied by the commissioners’ response to the union’s complaints, but added, “I think we have their attention, which is what we wanted to do. … We wanted them to see we are serious.”

The union seems most upset by the apparent loss of a one-time longevity stipend that former acting Sheriff Rick Weigel wanted to pay from what is known as the sheriff’s fee account.

Those plans fell apart when Weigel resigned following a meeting with the budget board and others last month. Officials said the meeting was called at the request of the county purchasing director to discuss concerns about the unfinished Sheriff’s Office training center, which is also being partially funded through the fee account.

Jones, though, said the meeting was contrived as a way to “ambush” Weigel and force him to back off the stipends — expected to cost $375,000 — by claiming state law requires about a quarter of the office’s annual budget be in reserve when the new sheriff takes office in April.

Jones said the Sheriff’s Office general fund, which does not include jail operations, has enough money to cover the stipends.

The county has a state constitutional responsibility to operate the jail properly, and that should take priority, he said.

“We’ll continue to speak with them, continue to have dialogue,” Jones said. “That’s what a lot of this is about, to understand where they’re coming from and to stop the negativity.”