With tensions already out in the open between the Putnam County Sheriff ’s Police Benevolent Association and county leadership, a recent decision by the NYS Public Employment Relations Board led to more sparring last week.
PERB dismissed accusations that County Executive MaryEllen Odell failed to advocate for Memorandum of Agreement with the PBA that she agreed to, but was ultimately not approved by the county Legislature in March 2017. As a result, the PBA filed an improper practice charge against Odell, claiming that while she signed onto the deal, she was actually working to see the deal fail when it went to lawmakers that would need to ratify it.
The last two months, even before a PERB decision was reached, the PBA has been on the offensive slamming county leadership as deputies and investigators for the sheriff’s office continue to work without a contract.
PBA members have been without a contract since the end of 2016.
After all nine lawmakers shot down the contract, the PBA claimed in online posts that Odell and former deputy county executive Bruce Walker convinced the legislature to vote against the deal that led to the improper charge the union lodged. The MOA that was rejected called for a 2 percent wage increase for each year of the agreement, increases in holiday pay, an increased equipment allowance while eliminating the submission of receipts to be eligible for a clothing allowance. The MOA also threw out the requirement that police officers qualify as certified first responders.
Since then, the two sides have not substantively discussed working toward a contract.
“The idea of the County not being able to continue talks unless the PBA withdraws the charge is misleading and factually untrue,” the PBA stated before PERB came out with a ruling. “The PBA has always negotiated in good faith with all parties’ best interests in mind.”
Recently, the PBA Facebook page has chided lawmakers, referring to Odell as “The Empress” and photoshopping her on a horse in front of Tilly Foster Farm as a way to criticize her spending on the county property. The group has also slammed county legislators for voting to give themselves a 14 percent raise in 2017.
The PBA’s attorney, Andrew Quinn, said the PBA argued that Odell did not actively advocate for the contract’s passage once it reached the legislature. He said Walker encouraged lawmakers to turn down the deal.
PERB believed that Walker told legislators to kill the deal, but that there wasn’t enough evidence to show that Odell directed Walker to convey that message, Quinn said.
When the PBA confronted Odell about Walker advocating against the deal, Odell told the union she would have never allowed that to happen, Quinn said. The PBA then challenged Odell to fire Walker as a result, which did not happen. Walker now works in Washington DC for the Department of Energy.
“It’s a disgrace the way the leadership of Putnam County has decided to treat its police officers,” Quinn said.
Quinn argued the contract is affordable to taxpayers, which is contrary to what lawmakers have claimed.
“If (Odell) signed an unsustainable contract, then she’s reckless and if she signed a contract that’s sustainable and the legislature said it isn’t, they’re liars,” Quinn said. “So it’s one or the other.”
Odell flatly denied that she was ever against the deal, pointing to the PERB decision that backs her up. She said she was genuine in crafting a good deal for the PBA that offered members the respect they deserve.
When asked about some of the incendiary Facebook posts about her online, Odell said she doesn’t believe a vocal minority represents most in the sheriff ’s office.
Odell said she was hopeful to restart talks with the PBA going forward now that the PERB decision has come back. “The ball’s in the PBA’s court now,” Odell said. Some of the pressure points that originally sunk the first deal would need to be discussed in order to get the legislature on board this time around, she said.
County legislators also pushed back against the PBA’s claims and defended Odell.
Legislature Chairman Joe Castellano said last month Odell was “always very supportive” of the proposed PBA contract along with former sheriff Smith. The legislature didn’t support the deal because it was unsustainable and unfair to other public unions in the county as well as taxpayers, he said.
“It was a very difficult decision, I look forward to the PBA returning to the negotiating table to resolve this issue,” Castellano said. “We appreciate and understand the difficult work that is done every day by the men and women of the Putnam County Sheriff ’s Department and we look forward to a speedy resolution.”
Legislator Neal Sullivan said last month Odell was the PBA’s “biggest supporter” with regards to getting the deputies a new contract.
“Couldn’t have done more in a positive manner to get that contract done and approved so they’re completely wrong,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan said he’s disheartened the dialogue from the sheriff ’s deputies has become as scathing as it has.
The tension between the two sides has existed for more than two years when legislators during a personnel committee meeting in 2017 signaled they were not going to approve the deal. Former undersheriff Paul Boscia blasted lawmakers during the meeting, telling them that their actions are a “slap in the face” to the law enforcement officers.
Sheriff Robert Langley, who was not part of the original negotiations since he was not in office, said the PERB decision was a “just and fair” ruling based on the evidence introduced. When discussing the deal that was rejected by the legislature, Langley said there were aspects of the proposal he would not have agreed to.
Langley said he’s spoken with PBA representatives about social media
Putnam Sheriff’s PBA and County Remain at Odds
criticism of county elected officials with the hope they understand that behavior is not acceptable.
“Those postings should not reflect on all the members of the sheriff’s office,” Langley said.
He also stood up for the legislature’s role in deciding whether a deal is good or not, stating there’s a responsibility to ensure the county remains on solid financial footing. He also defended the 14 percent raise they gave themselves, calling it acceptable after going without one for many years.
“I’m certain that the legislators are looking at giving the PBA members a fair and reasonable pay raise,” Langley said. “They want to see the PBA get a fair contract that’s fair for everybody.”
Sullivan said lawmakers want a good dialogue with the PBA.
“We like those guys, they do a good job,” he said. “There’s common ground to be reached.”