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Where I Stand: In response to the supervisors’ letter of May 2

Editor’s note: Sheriff Todd Johns read the following letter aloud to the Board of Supervisors during the May 9 meeting. All were in attendance with the exception of Jeff Engel who was absent for medical reasons. CAO Debra Lucero was not present. Following the Sheriff’s comments, District Attorney David Hollister spoke out in support of him. Those comments will be included in a general article to be posted later. 

By Sheriff Todd Johns

I am very disappointed in the board’s decision to attack myself and the employees of the sheriff’s department during last week’s board meeting without making any attempt to have a conversation with me regarding the claimed facts that were presented.

  • “51 people have left the Sheriff’s Office since July 2022” Our records indicate only 28 have left. These numbers include all staff including part-time employees and boat patrol. As a matter of fact, I looked at our records during my entire time since being appointed Sheriff. In 2020, 13 left, in 2021, 21 left, in 2022 24 left and so far in 2023, 4 have left for a total of 62 employees. As a comparison, going back to 2017, 18 employees left, 2018, 27 left and in 2019, 25 left for a total of 70 employees. So, 8 more left in the last three years of the previous administration than under the 3.5  years that I have been the Sheriff.  I should also mention that my numbers include two years of dealing with the unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic, as well as the Claremont/Bear fire and the Dixie Fire. (During this time we had to order mandatory 12 – 16 hour shifts, had continuous changes with the pandemic which caused burn-out and uncertainty, as well as working when nearly all other county employees were home with their families). The comparison actually shows some consistency with the number of folks leaving with the constant being that the staff at the Sheriff’s office have been consistently under-valued and under-paid for years. Perhaps the board should utilize their third-party investigator to contact those 70 employees who left from 2017 to 2019 to see why they left? In the same token, how many department heads left the county and the county was unable to fill those positions? How did the board attract applicants and fill those positions? You raised the pay for those positions to attract and hire applicants as well as to keep the existing department heads from leaving.
  • As to me not responding to the third party investigator, that too is completely inaccurate. When I originally spoke to the investigator, I indicated that I would compile the exit interviews and give them to him. Shortly after that it was pointed out to me that those exit interviews would be considered confidential unless those employees were contacted and agreed to have their interview released. As a result of that information, I contacted the investigator via email, which I have a copy of, and told him I had given a complete list of the names of previous employees to the County Counsel’s office and that he could access the list and personally contact those employees to obtain their statements. I did this to reduce liability to the office and the county from releasing information that should be kept confidential. I should also mention that at the time I had no idea that my staff or I were being investigated by this investigator and was instead told that he was investigating another county department head.
  • I will agree with the board in the fact that a well-run organization knows it needs to understand why employees are leaving. It has taken some time to figure out that our exit interview process at the sheriff’s office had flaws. We have made vast improvements to the process to make sure we are collecting all of the information possible to make improvements. The board also indicated in their letter that out of thirty people that were interviewed “16 were critical of management and that 7 cited pay and were also critical of management”. That’s great. My issue with this witch hunt is that I still have had no contact by anyone including the Chair, Vice-Chair, HR or CC (County Counsel) as to these results or what these former employees were critical about. So why spend money to collect this information, if your not going to utilize it in a manner that assists with the very thing that you are citing that you want to fix?
  • The Board indicated that the HR department had sent 24 applicants to the sheriff’s office since August 2022. What that means is that the applicants met the minimum requirements set by the human resources department in order to obtain an oral interview and possibly be put into the background process. The board also recommended that the Sheriff’s office utilize a third-party background investigator. I currently have three Sergeants who conduct backgrounds. This recommendation is insulting to them and indicates that even though they have received training specifically given by California Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) and that somehow our background process is flawed. I have put an item on next week’s agenda to specifically cover backgrounds and the process that takes place but will give you some general numbers. One of my background sergeants has conducted 39 backgrounds in the past four years. 13 applicants failed for various reasons or withdrew during the process, 10 were hired then left at some point after, 15 are still working for the Sheriff office, with one applicant currently in background. That’s my senior Sergeant who does backgrounds. Comparatively, from 2012 to 2016, the previous administration utilized a part-time employee to conduct a large portion of employee backgrounds. Not necessarily a third-party but not a full-time sworn person either. During this five-year period, this investigator disqualified 45 applicants for various reasons like honesty, arrest records, failing to respond and drug use.  I should mention that prior to last week’s letter from the board, that supervisor Engel is the only supervisor who made an effort to understand the background process and asked questions about recruitment and retention at the Sheriff’s office.
  • The board also indicated in their letter, that when my undersheriff and I were questioned by the HR director and CAO Lucero that we only cited one applicant that failed background had used Marijuana. This is also not accurate and this comment was clearly cherry picked and taken out of context. We indicated applicants had not passed background for numerous reasons including not responding to repeated calls as well as drug use. We also told them that several of the possible applicants hadn’t even shown up to their scheduled interview. Again, for those applicants that did not pass background or were disqualified they have a right to privacy, especially in a small community, and I am not at liberty to give detailed information about an applicant’s failure to pass a background. I will say that in the case cited, the use of marijuana was not the sole reason for not passing the background.
  • The board indicates in their letter that my statements to the newspaper “frightens people and lessens their belief in what the county does for their citizens.” My job is to protect the citizens of this county and to keep them informed. I can’t effectively do that with the lack of staffing. It’s easy to say to the public that “now you know the truth, more then 50% of those interviewed left because they were critical of management while 23% cited pay and benefits” and “those are the facts.” No, they are not the facts. Again, how were they critical of management? More importantly, are the things that they are critical of even things that I have control over? Based on the interviews and conversations that I have had with staff that are leaving, in almost every instance their concerns with management were a result of low staffing or not understanding all of the processes, procedures and mandates that we have to endure to even function as a Sheriff’s office.
  • The board also indicates that this is a statewide or national issue. This is very true. But as I have told the board before, most of the staff that are leaving the Sheriff’s Office are not leaving the county. They are just going to other jobs that pay the same but offer better hours with less stress, or the pay is better and they won’t have to work weekends or holidays. Additionally other counties and cities are combating this issue by offering tremendous pay raises and hiring bonuses, yet here I stand with a Sheriff’s Office that is still fighting tooth and nail to even get an offer from this board who keeps citing they don’t know how much money they have to bargain with and won’t know until the audit is completed. Three weeks ago Mr. Goodman, who is assisting the auditor, told the board that the Audit has nothing to do negotiations and the board should be able to move forward with negotiations.

 

  • We are all in this together! This is not true.
    • During the recent storms, county employees, who do not work for the sheriff’s office were awarded “snow pay”. The employees of the sheriff’s office who had to work received no such pay. There have been repeated attempts to discuss this with the CAO and HR with no response. This is even after employees filed a grievance in writing.
    • I will also mention that I had a dispatcher who did not receive the $1500 ARPA stipend because the employees at the Sheriff’s Office did not get those funds when the OE3 employees did. She changed positions during the process and went to an OE3 position, without a break in service, and was not given these funds which she should clearly be entitled to. Why? After repeated attempts to get this resolved, and a written grievance, we have been told that she will not get these funds. Why is this even an issue for the county.

I have never told this board or the citizens of this county that I or my administration are perfect. We continue to do a difficult job with decreased staffing during challenging times.  My top priority is serving the citizens of this county and providing quality public safety to the best of my ability. Additionally, without reserve, my other top priority is to provide the best working conditions that I can for our incredible employees and to ensure they go home safe at the end of the day. My hope is that the board will recognize my passion to do this and start working with me to do so. Your letter last week only showed divisiveness and raised serious concern among citizens and employees who rely on us to work together for the counties best interest.

 

9 thoughts on “Where I Stand: In response to the supervisors’ letter of May 2

  • Can we please stop the attacks against & grievous lack of support for our Sheriff & his department? Such is dangerous as well as just downright tiresome. Please keep in mind that the citizens of Plumas County used their individual votes to elect Mr Johns as our Sheriff & we’d like to see him receive the support he is warranted by the rest of the elected officials of this county. It’s way past time for ALL to work in concert to achieve effective improvements in ALL areas. If things don’t turn around promptly on this front I, for one, will happily vote them out of their respective offices as I’m darn tired of these juvenile shenanigans. Just get on with the work at hand, please, and do your jobs. Thank you.

    • Well said.
      That’s all, for now. I’m simply too exhausted …
      But I have been holding onto some serious questions regarding that third party investigator [we] all hired, since some people have chosen to take us all there.
      So tired of shenanigans. Seriously. There’s serious work to do.

  • It’s unfortunate that Sheriff Todd Johns has had to spend time defending himself and his department. For goodness sake, please support him and work together and put an end to this madness. For the sake of the county, give them a pay raise, find the money in the budget to keep this essential service.

  • I read the Board’s letter a couple weeks ago and seemed confused on basic support of the Sheriffs’ Dept. The elected Board is in place to provide the voting public with a forum to discuss important issues that affect the day to day life in the County. The elected Sheriff is in place to serve and protect the voting public which includes this very Board. However the tenor of the letter the Board published basically through the Sheriff and his department under the bus. In this recent response by the Sheriff he has provided accountability for every claim the Board made in their letter which tells me someone (on the Board) didn’t do their homework and the “witch hunt” the Sheriff alluded to in his response seems very plausible. This is a sad state of affairs and everyone involved needs to take a step back and a deep breath and accept responsibility for the position they were elected/appointed to do and start the task of solving the problems instead of creating more.

  • I appreciated Sheriff Johns’ response to the statement delivered by Supervisor Ceresola; it demonstrated that there are clearly two perspectives on this issue. However, I agree with Bob Lindquist–regardless of those different “takes” on the situation, we have a law enforcement crisis in this county, and it’s essential that the participants find a way to work together for the benefit of the residents they represent.

  • I believe in Todd Johns’ ability to lead the Sherriff Department. I at least believe we should give the department head the tools he needs to do his best to serve our county before reserving the right to measure his failure or success. How do you measure quality of leadership when you aren’t comparing it to a larger sample of leadership roles? I hope to see more professionalism from our Plumas County Board of Supervisors. I thought last weeks letter from the Board of Supervisors was incredibly counterintuitive. I hope that our Supervisors will reflect on that effort and see where time and resources were potentially wasted and make an effort to move forward cooperatively with solution based plans and actions.

    The point Johns makes here in regard to resignation timelines is all to important. What is the purpose of hiring a private investigator to target a specific term? If long term solution is what you seek then collecting big picture data (5, 10, 15 years, for example) would make a lot more sense and would involve less prejudice.

    In my field of work and in the nature of the multiple roles I play in my personal life I find that I have to spend my minutes wisely, otherwise I waste them. I make small goals every day and come up with micro plans to make the most of my effort (some days are better than others, I admit). As county elected officials I assume you likely go about spending your time on manners regarding the County in a similar way; resourcefully, timely, and methodically as best as possible. So I have to ask, under the assumption that you all spend your time (our tax dollars) productively, fulfilling your duties resourcefully, what was the solution you were looking for when hiring the private investigator? How has the problem been solved or reduced since fulfilling this investigation? Can you say with certainty that there were no biases in this investigation?

    Thank you.

    • Sheriff* and resolved*

  • Can we please interview the 13 department heads that left? It would be interesting to see why they left, guarantee it’s not because of pay. Admin? Good case! Last year it was brought to the board that department heads and elected officials need more money for retention. It passed through the board with literally no comment. Highly payed positions that I’m sure were under payed to comparison counties. 0-35%. However, why cant county employees be held to the same comparison? I’ve done my homework. I stand with our sheriffs department and every other department as well. Why are they not held to the same comparison? There are employees that are 25-55% under the same comparison for their jobs. If you are going to hold yourself to the standard you need to do it for all! Thank you Todd Johns and all your staff and I relay that to all departments dealing with staffing shortages due to the blindness of what has been reported to the board over the last 12 months!!!

  • Sheriff Johns has the patience of Job, without the divine plan. That the Board of Supervisors obviously does not trust our own elected Sheriff, shows that they do not trust their constituency either. Well, we’re just going to have to see about that in the next election.

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