By LeaAnne Klentzman
The inaugural lawsuit against the Fort Bend County Sheriff’s Office Civil Service has been filed; interestingly, by a man who is no stranger to Fort Bend Sheriff’s Office lawsuits.
In the suit filed by John Font, he asserts that the Civil Service Commission demoted him from lieutenant to deputy. The suit states that Sheriff Wright hired Font on August 9, 2011 then promoted him to “Acting Lieutenant” on December 13, 2011. In the lawsuit Font claims that even though his title was “Acting Lieutenant,” he functioned and worked as any other Lieutenant in the organization.
However, according to the lawsuit, Font’s pay was never commensurate with his new assignment/promotion; thus he is seeking permanent status as Lieutenant as well as the pay. Sheriff Wright asked the Commission to vote on whether reclassification of these already promoted employees would be subject to March 21, 2012 Rules and Regulations.”
On November 7, 2012 when the Commission voted that the rules of the Civil Service Commission dated March 21, 2012 would be the guiding factor, Font was essentially demoted back to his deputy status where he was slotted on the county payroll and how he was paid before the overtime that was used to prop up his “acting status.”
Just two weeks ago the “Star” reported, “Kent Edwards, Director of Human Resources for Fort Bend County, also spoke against the move. As an example he cited one specific promotion saying that if that particular jail deputy was promoted to lieutenant, he would be bypassing over 319 deputies and 49 sergeants that were more qualified and had more seniority and tenure. Edwards asked that the Commission reject the complement of jobs the Sheriff was asking to reclassify and/or promote because it failed to comply with the Civil Service regulations.”
Also during that same Civil Service Commission meeting, Sheriff Wright told the Commission that he had allowed eight people to be promoted to “acting” positions and had allowed overtime monies to be used to pay their bump in salaries. When he spoke before the Commission, he was clear that the reclassification(s) and promotions were for specific personnel and not open to the department as a whole. The Commission denied the Sheriff’s request saying that it was not their job to reclassify or to create positions; it was their job to make sure that the rules governing the Commission and Civil Service process were appropriately followed.
Font filed his lawsuit which if successful, could lead to at least six other suits since there are six detective sergeants that were promoted to “acting lieutenants ” last year, and Sheriff Wright has failed more than once to get their salary or upgraded position past Commissioner’s Court. This lawsuit was filed the day before the Thanksgiving holiday and just days before what is expected to be a contentious Civil Service Commission meeting on November 28, 2012. In that meeting numerous Sheriff’s employees are expected to speak on behalf of proposed rule changes and submit a petition regarding that support; while others are circulating pleadings to stay the course.
Font is no stranger to lawsuits with Fort Bend county; he along with Craig Brady, and several other of Sheriff Wright’s administrators, filed a wrongful termination suit against Fort Bend County back in 1993; all but Font prevailed.
This lawsuit comes at a time when the newly born Civil Service Commission and Fort Bend County are facing the challenges of melding an old Sheriff’s administration with the ideals and goals of a new one; all while hundreds of sheriff’s employees are expected to keep everyday operations status quo.
*Editor’s Note: In short, all this wrangling with the Civil Service Commission is a knee jerk reaction to the shocking loss (he didn’t even make a run-off) by Wright’s Chief Deputy Craig Brady in his bid to become Sheriff.
The employees who are in the positions in question were ardent political supporters of Brady and Wright and appear to have been promoted outside the positions allotted by Commissioner’s Court as well as the rules and guidelines of Civil Service. Wright has been promoting whoever he wanted to whatever position he created for many years. As his time is running out, he apparently has been promoting people to much higher pay grades which will spend taxpayer money and exploit county personnel. Many of the employees are relatives of each other or spouses of each other.
There has been nepotism and favoritism in hiring, promoting, and paying in the department for many years. That is coming to an end.