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Plumas County Sheriff speaks out on behalf of his employees

By Debra Moore

[email protected]

Plumas County Sheriff Todd Johns made an impassioned plea to the Board of Supervisors, but was it heard?

Johns spoke to the supervisors during the public comment portion of their Oct. 5 meeting — a time when the board doesn’t respond to comments. Two days later, when asked if he received any type of response, Johns said, “Not a single call.”

At the heart of his plea is concern for the dire shortage of employees in his office. There are 11 positions open between dispatch and his slate of deputies, and another eight openings in the jail.

“I’m losing folks; I can’t keep folks,” Johns said, and described the long hours his employees must work due to being short staffed (exacerbated by the demands of both the Beckwourth Complex and Dixie fires), and the low rate of pay.

“When other employees had the luxury of staying home, my staff still had to come to work,” Johns said. “During the fires, staff worked 12 to 16 hours a day.”

Then he added, if that “isn’t enough, pay cuts are coming due to increased healthcare costs.”

During an interview Oct. 7, Johns cited as an example of the issues he faces, two dispatchers who quit to work for the bank, where the hours are 9-5 for the same pay, the same benefits.

Then there’s the keen competition for employees throughout law enforcement. “Every agency around us is hiring; every agency around us is getting pay raises,” he said. “I have people who are committed and dedicated to this county, but they can only take so much.”

On the afternoon of Oct. 5, negotiations were scheduled between the county and the sheriff’s employees. “What is being offered right now over two years doesn’t even cover medical insurance,” he told the supervisors. Johns would like to see a 10 percent pay hike over two years with 50 percent of the increase in medical costs picked up by the county. What is being offered will mean that each sheriff’s employee will take a pay decrease to pay for the health coverage increase.

Johns warned the supervisors that “we are incredibly close to when a citizen calls dispatch and they will be talking to a person from Lassen County.”

He said it’s to the point that he, as well as his patrol commander and undersheriff are handling calls themselves. “I certainly cannot continue to lose deputies to outside agencies,” he said, and asked the board to consider that during the afternoon negotiations. “Citizens of this county don’t deserve it; my employees don’t deserve it,” he said.

Reached for comment following the meeting, District 4 Supervisor Greg Hagwood, who is also the former Plumas County Sheriff, said that competitive pay has always been an issue and he anticipates that it always will be, because there isn’t any way that a county the size of Plumas can compete with metropolitan areas.

While he can’t discuss specifics of negotiations, he said that none took place the afternoon of Oct. 5 because the county’s human resources director was unavailable.

“It will be interesting to see how this proceeds,” Hagwood said. “I think there will be offers and counter offers moving forward.”

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