By LeaAnne Klentzman
The 2010 census numbers are in and the deputies at the sheriff’s office are the winners.
For years, the deputy sheriff’s in Fort Bend County have been waiting for the county population to reach the magic number. That number is a population of 500,000 or over. Once the 500k population mark was reached, the law requires that civil service shall be instituted, if requested by petition of a majority of the sheriff’s personnel.
The petition requesting a vote arrived at the county judge’s office last week, dated September 1, 2011.
The petition, signed by Deputy Sheriff’s Association past President and current Vice President David Schultz, requests the creation of a Sheriff’s Department Civil Service System based on Texas government code chapter 158 (B). That section of the government code specifically requires the County Judge to call a balloted election after the 15th day from which he received the petition but before the 45th day after receipt. The law specifies that all sheriff’’s personnel will be eligible to vote either for or against civil service. If it passes, then civil service will be instituted.
On the petition submitted to the county judge were over 500 signatures, which was described by an association member as representing some 75% of the department’s personnel.
According to the Code, if the Civil Service vote passes, the Civil Service Commission will be made up of three representatives; one chosen by the Sheriff, one chosen by the County Judge/Commissioner’s Court, and one selected by the District Attorney. These three representatives will have to abide specific guidelines that are set forth in the government code and then set policies and procedures that meet the needs of their particular Commission.
The government code states that it is the obligation of the Commission to adopt, publish, and enforce rules regarding the definition of a county employee; selection and classification of county employees; competitive examinations; promotions, seniority, and tenure; layoffs and dismissals; disciplinary actions; grievance procedures; as well as address other matters relating to the selection of county employees and the procedural and substantive rights, advancement, benefits, and working conditions of county employees.
The statute further states that the Commission may adopt or use as a guide any civil service law or rule of the United States, this state, or a political subdivision in this state to the extent that the law or rule promotes the purposes of this subchapter and serves the needs of the county. The commission may not adopt or enforce a rule requiring a county employee to retire because of age. The commission may adopt a rule requiring a county employee, on reaching an age set by the commission, to submit annually to the commission an affidavit from a physician stating that the employee is physically and mentally capable of continuing employment. Although unavailable at press time, there is a working set of guidelines that have been formulated by the Fort Bend County Human Resources, the Deputy Sheriff’s Association as well as other county officials as to how the commission will operate if the vote passes.
With the 2012 sheriff’s election for sheriff looming on the horizon, civil service could not have come at a better time for many. Most employees will be covered by civil service by the time the next sheriff takes office, however the Sheriff will have some latitude in what positions he chooses to exempt or not exempt.
As a general rule the 10 positions of authority are exempt for the Fort Bend County’s sheriff’s office, are the chief deputy, the two majors and eight captains.
All that being said, civil services does not preclude an employee from being fired for cause; but it should stop the “serving at the will and pleasure of the sheriff” type terminations.