NEW PORT RICHEY — Sheriff Bob White sat on the dais in the County Commission chambers Tuesday, ready to hear both sides of a long-standing impasse between his agency and the bargaining unit that represents his deputies.
The union had the floor first.
"At this time, we'll call upon the FOP," White's attorney Wayne Helsby said, referring to the Fraternal Order of Police.
"It appears, sheriff, that the FOP has no representative here," Helsby said.
For all the theater, it was no surprise union members stayed away. They have a lawsuit pending in the courts challenging White's right to even hold Tuesday's hearing. The union says the County Commission should be the final say in resolving impasse issues.
The sheriff says he should be.
Back to the hearing. When no one from the union spoke, Al Nienhuis, the undersheriff, argued the Sheriff's Office side. He said the agency has been "proemployee" on issues including sick and vacation time, pay and promotions.
But he held his ground on the two issues that have stalled contract negotiations for more than a year. The union wants the Sheriff's Office to provide health insurance for members after they retire but before Medicare kicks in. White opposes it for financial reasons.
Secondly, the union wants more rights to appeal disciplinary actions taken against members. The sheriff wants the current system to remain in place.
When Nienhuis finished, White said he would consider the positions of both sides and make a decision soon.
Stuart Rosenfeldt, the FOP attorney, said he expects White will "rubber-stamp himself" in deciding the two issues. So the union is looking ahead to having its lawsuit heard.
"We hoped that Sheriff White would've had the fortitude to wait and see what the court said instead of being his own interpreter of the law," Rosenfeldt said.
That question of legislative authority is an open one in Florida. But the county, for its part, is deferring to the sheriff for now.
"Until the time that somebody says that it's the responsibility of the Board of County Commissioners, we think the sheriff should serve in that role," County Attorney Jeffrey Steinsnyder said.
Molly Moorhead can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6245.