Approximately 25 labor union representatives gathered on the steps at the Frank Crowley Courts Building this morning to criticize Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez, citing her refusal to hire from within the Sheriff’s Department, along with concerns regarding possible staff and pay cuts to satisfy the county commissioners’ request to help reduce the county’s $34-million budget shortfall.
Mike Ramirez, vice president of the Dallas chapter of the National Latino Peace Officers Association, served as the spokesman for the group that also included members of the Dallas County Sheriff’s Association, the Dallas County Peace Officers Association and the Fraternal Order of Police. Ramirez said the proposal to cut jobs and salary within the department is “not acceptable.” He also said Valdez’s rationale for hiring an outsider -- Lt. Marlin Suell of the Smith County Sheriff’s Department -- as head of inmate housing because there isn’t anyone qualified in her department is “not accurate.”
Ramirez claimed he has been attempting to meet with Valdez since the day she took office, but she has refused to do so. He said he and other labor union reps have been meeting for about a month, and while Ramirez didn’t call for Valdez’s resignation, he said his coalition wants her to work with her employees, not against them. “We want her to fight for us,” he said. “We don’t want her to work for the commissioners court.”
After the press conference, Unfair Park asked Ramirez how he felt about Valdez going against the commissioners on an issue like the Discovery Channel filming inside the jail, when she wasn’t willing to go against them on an issue of such significance to the employees of her department.
“It’s politics,” Ramirez says. “When you’ve got a commissioner that can walk into the jail unescorted anytime he wants to and the sheriff holds weekly meetings with him, [the Discovery Channel filming in the jail] would have put her in the spotlight and put her face out there.”
So why would she fall in line with the commissioners this time?
“It’s election time, and she’s struggling.” Ramirez tells us. “She wants to keep the commissioners in her camp.”
Ramirez, who is also a motorcycle patrol officer with the Sheriff’s Department, says Commissioner John Wiley Price has too much control over the jail. “Nothing personal against Price -- he’s a good friend of mine -- but he’s got too much power,” he says. “It’s a political game, and the ones that are suffering are us here in the department.”
Valdez responded later in the morning with a press conference of her own, where she said her staff was “working tirelessly” to address the budget cuts without sacrificing jobs or the county’s safety. She added that the requests from the commissioners court have not even been considered, and Valdez stressed that she opposes the recommendations and has another plan to address the budget concerns -- only, she wouldn’t elaborate on specifics.
Valdez said she may not have the support of some union leaders, but she believes she has the support of the membership; she questioned what percentage of members were asked to give input preceding today’s announcement. She also claimed she has met with union leaders more than 60 times since taking office.
Hiring an outsider to fill the inmate housing position has always been the plan because new people bring “fresh ideas and a new perspective,” Valdez said, adding that 300 officers had been offered promotions from within the department during her tenure.
Ramirez says some of the information Valdez gave was inaccurate, such as meeting with union reps more than 60 times. “That is not true,” he says. “Her chiefs maybe, but not [with] her.”
He also says the union leadership represents the membership as a whole, and he may take Valdez up on her challenge to provide the percentage of members contacted. “We’re gonna discuss that,” he says. “We may just give her that percentage.”
So, can Valdez make cuts to the budget that doesn’t result in lost jobs or pay?
“It’s gonna be hard,” Ramirez says. “I don’t think it can be done.” --Sam Merten