By LeaAnne Klentzman
In an historical step forward, although forced, Fort Bend County adopted Civil Service for all sheriff’s personnel.
Based on state law, once a county reaches a population of over 500,000, sheriff employees can petition the county judge to adopt Civil Service. Earlier this year, after the ratification of the 2010 US Censuses, the Fort Bend County Deputy Sheriff’s Association filed said petition with the County Judge, triggering an employee vote for civil service. That vote was held in early October and passed overwhelmingly, with well over 500 employees voting for and less than 10 voting against.
With the adoption of Civil Service, a Commission of three members is appointed; one representative from the Commissioner’s Court, one representative from the District Attorney’s Office and one representative from the Sheriff. In the Texas Government Code, Section 158.034: Appointment of Commission, lists the only two qualifiers for an appointee; “To be eligible for appointment to the commission, a person must: (1) be at least 25 years old; and (2) have resided in the county for the three years immediately preceding the date on which the person’s term will begin.”
According to state statute the purpose and power of the Civil Service Commission is to adopt, publish, and enforce standardized rules and regulations for Sheriff’s Office employees. The Commission will outline who employees are, how they are selected, and how they are classified based on a standardized process. Competitive examinations, seniority, and tenure will be a part of promotion process at all times. The Commission will also participate in the grievances of employees regarding layoffs, dismissals and or disciplinary actions. Most importantly, the Commission is tasked with the procedural and substantive employee rights, their advancement, benefits, and working conditions in order to make sure that the employee, the County and taxpayers are not held hostage by an omnipotent elected official.
While Civil Service is widely held to be good for the employee, it is most importantly a benefit for taxpayer as the Commission is supposed to protect the County from undue labor issues and lawsuits. The selection of the Civil Service Commission representatives for this initial two year term is critical, not just for employees but also for the taxpayer.
Last week in Commissioner’s Court the public learned who those appointees were when they appeared on the Commissioner’s Court agenda. On the consent agenda, which passed without any discussion, District Attorney John Healey appointed former Sugar Land police chief and long time Fort Bend resident Ernie Taylor. Also on the consent agenda, Sheriff Milton Wright appointed Otoniel Cantu, PhD. Then in open session, the Commissioners appointed former law enforcement officer, now a private sector personnel director, Bobby Slavinski.
When the unknown Otoneil Cantu’s name appeared on the agenda, it was a surprise. Cantu, who reportedly lives near Katy, does not appear to be a Fort Bend property owner. However, the law does not require an appointee to be a property owner, just that they live in the county for the three years prior to their appointment.
Prior to last Tuesday’s appointment, the “Star” learned that Cantu was a registered voter in Fort Bend; he registered in May of 2010 and has voted in one election. However, that does not answer the question of his residency requirement.
When the question of a potentially flawed appointment was brought to the attention of the County Attorney, he said he would check into it. The County Judge’s Office told Star publisher Bev Carter, they did not believe they had any power to stop the appointment. One of the Commissioners said, “Well, he’s the sheriff and he can do what he wants… “
That attitude is a shining example of why all employees of Fort Bend County need to be protected by Civil Service. All three appointees were approved. The Civil Service Commission is not expected to be in place until late 2012.