Bexar County leaders bid farewell to two departing commissioners Tuesday and vowed to work to reduce jail overtime that the local deputies’ union said has put an unbearable strain on detention officers.
Addressing commissioners during the public comment portion of the last regular meeting of the year, the leader of the Deputy Sheriff’s Association of Bexar County said some detention officers are working three overtime shifts per week at the jail, which is understaffed. He called on commissioners to iron out a plan with Sheriff Javier Salazar “to stop the human suffering of detention officers working at the Bexar County Jail.”
“For 11 years, you are all aware that detention officers have been working overtime at an alarming rate,” said Jeremy Payne, association president. “We started out as just one overtime shift a month. It has now grown to over three overtime shifts a week, and 80 to 96 hours of overtime a month.”
Payne asked the court to launch an immediate, independent mental health evaluation of detention officers, and to let the association help fill short-term staffing shortages to give those officers some relief.
“The toll on these men, these women and their children’s lives is too much to ask, and is not asked of any of your employees,” Payne said.
Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff and Commissioner Tommy Calvert said they agreed the Commissioners Court needs to get involved. The jail has about 250 detention officer vacancies, and last year generated $10 million in overtime costs, county officials said.
“We share your concerns about this overtime,” Wolff told Payne. “It’s very exasperating for us, as it is for you.”
Jail working conditions have been discussed at length in negotiations between the county and the association on a collective bargaining agreement for detention and patrol officers. A virtual negotiation session on the agreement is set for 1:30 p.m. Wednesday. An agenda with a link for the public to view the session is posted on the county website, bexar.org.
Last week, the deputies’ association released a survey indicating almost 60 percent of detention deputies said they were dissatisfied with their job. But Salazar has said the county is “stuck with the overtime situation” in order to comply with standards set by the state.
In another matter related to the Sheriff’s Office, commissioners supported a proposal Tuesday to negotiate an upgrade in the county’s contract with Axon Enterprise Inc. of Scottsdale, Ariz., a purveyor of law enforcement equipment.
A year ago, commissioners approved the federally subsidized purchase of more than 600 body cameras and 250 in-car video systems from Axon at a cost of $6.3 million over five years. The county has distributed nearly 90 percent of the body cameras to deputies in the sheriff’s and constables’ offices.
Now, the county needs to replace officers’ Tasers with new, more efficient devices, according to a staff memo.
With New Year’s Eve approaching, commissioners also approved an order prohibiting the sale or use of certain fireworks — “skyrockets with sticks” and “missiles with fins” — as provided under state law. The prohibition runs through Jan. 14, unless the Texas Forest Service determines drought conditions no longer exist.
County leaders also said farewell to Commissioners Sergio “Chico” Rodriguez, who has served for 16 years, and Kevin Wolff, who is completing his 12th year as commissioner.
Rodriguez, who has represented the South Side Precinct 1, was defeated by Rebeca “Becky” Clay Flores in the Democratic primary. County Judge Wolff praised Rodriguez as a commissioner who “changed the face of South San Antonio,” helping guide projects such as the Mission Reach of the San Antonio River, a BiblioTech branch and flood control and transportation improvements.
Commissioner Kevin Wolff, the only Republican on the court and the son of the longtime county judge, did not seek re-election to Precinct 3 on the North Side. He will be replaced by Trish DeBerry, who ran as a GOP candidate. Officials thanked him for his support of transportation projects, county services for military veterans and streamlining of county government.
Wolff spoke optimistically of the addition of two women to the court — for the first time since the early 1990s, when Judge Cyndi Taylor Krier and Commissioner Helen Dutmer served together — and the “new opinions and energy” Flores and DeBerry will bring. But he cautioned their work will not be easy.
“Constituents elect you to make hard decisions for them,” Commissioner Wolff said.
Story By: Scott Huddleston/San Antonio Express-News