OPINION — In the field of law enforcement, the predominant political strain is conservative.
That’s a fact, not a judgment. In fact, I really don’t care what your political leanings are as long as they are based on thoughtful deliberation and not because mommy and daddy were liberal or conservative, your peers are liberal or conservative or your church is liberal or conservative.
In other words, I respect individual beliefs if they are genuine and do no harm to others whether I agree or not.
But, you can imagine my surprise when I opened up a screen on STGNews the other day to learn that the Iron County Sheriff’s Office has unionized.
Hell must have truly frozen over.
Or, at least come visiting at the ICSO.
There is an ugly dispute between Iron County Commissioners and the sheriff’s office right now centered around the dismissal of former deputy Jody Edwards.
As a matter of full disclosure, I have known Jody for about 20 years.
For what it’s worth, I admire Jody as one of the most honest, credible, decent and humble human beings I have ever met.
Look, everybody knows that there is this natural thing between law enforcement officers and the media.
Neither group trusts the other. The cops argue that the newsies dig too much and are always looking for the negative, that reporters are “out to get them,” while the media argues that the cops are reluctant to share information vital to the community, often fail to fully disclose information or get the facts so jumbled that it embarrasses everybody.
I’ve seen good cops, bad cops, mediocre cops.
Jody Edwards is a good cop.
A very good cop.
And, to see him at the center of a controversy, such as this beef between that twisted up bunch that calls itself the Iron County Commissioners and the ICSO, makes my stomach turn.
It centers around the closure of the county ambulance service when it was sold to Gold Cross earlier this year.
Edwards had been a member of the ICSO for 23 years at the time the commissioners “forced” Sheriff Mark Gower — his words, not mine — to terminate him.
The commissioners didn’t like that Edwards vocally opposed their decision to privatize the ambulance service so, when they got the opportunity, they eliminated his job. In their minds, it is better to not make waves or, if you do, do so behind closed doors so they aren’t embarrassed by any of their unwise decisions. So, they dealt out a little payback and took away the career of one of the county’s top employees.
But, Edwards has a penchant for truth. He’s an upfront, standup guy who is unafraid to go to the mat, if necessary, to do the right thing, something I cannot say about these commissioners who are mired in self-absorption and ego.
Unfortunately, honesty is a misdemeanor in some political circles where suspicious deals and decisions, longstanding grudges and bullying tactics prevail. Believe me, as a longtime political observer, nobody can be a bigger bully than a locally elected official. They can make life truly miserable if they wish.
Under such circumstances, I can understand why the deputies decided to unionize, even though for most, it had to be a difficult decision.
These men and women have historically worked for far less compensation than their peers in the Cedar City Police Department. Maybe it’s because the police chiefs have been better at the negotiation table than past sheriffs, maybe not. But, whatever the reason, it is time for that to change, along with some protections from a commission that can be vindictive.
Criticize these guys and you’re done.
Well, that’s not how it is supposed to work.
I guarantee that despite comments to the contrary the commission will do its best to bust the union.
Commissioners are already claiming they will not negotiate with it, that Gower will be the only one they will sit at the table with on matters of employment, wages and benefits, which means they are setting themselves up for a whale of a lawsuit that they will surely lose. Even in Utah, where employee rights are marginal at best and people spit out the word union with as much invective as they do the word liberal.
It’s a part of the ultra-conservative culture to be anti-union in Utah, part of the genetics, I think. In fact, I can remember being ostracized not that many years ago because I had the temerity to write stories about employees at a small manufacturing company in Iron County looking to unionize.
I know the flak I took at the time and have a pretty good idea what those trying to form that union were faced with as they took massive heat from family and friends.
I guess that is why I look at the ICSO in a much different light today and applaud the officers for taking a stand.
Unionizing was an unpopular thing to do. They will suffer at the hands of the bullies who decide the budget. They will suffer in public opinion.
But, they stood up for a man they respect, with the understanding that the same thing could happen to them if they don’t toe the line.
It was courageous and, even though Gower and I have gone a few rounds here and there over the years, I must also give him credit for standing tall for one of his men.
What did it gain them?
A slap in the face when the commissioners decided, on Oct. 12, to pass a resolution proclaiming that “public employees in Utah have no right to collective bargaining.”
Commissioner Dale Brinkerhoff took it an insulting step further, saying: “…we’re not going to entertain collective bargaining. Again, we don’t discourage your unionization. You’ll be welcome to sit in budget hearings, but you won’t be at the table. The sheriff is the spokesman for the budget. Give any input you want to the sheriff.”
It took courage for these deputies to take the steps they took.
Of course, standing up to a bully usually does.
Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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