The Missoula County commissioners have responded to two grievances that allege a sheriff’s deputy was removed from his position as the department’s public information officer because of his “political beliefs.”
The grievances contend that Deputy Jason Johnson’s removal and Deputy Paige Pavalone’s subsequent appointment to the job were a violation of the collective bargaining agreement between the Missoula County Deputy Sheriffs’ Association and the county.
“Quite frankly, I have no idea what his political beliefs are, and frankly I don’t care,” Sheriff Carl Ibsen said Friday in response to the complaints.
The grievances stem from an April 19 meeting where Sgt. T.J. McDermott and Deputy Johnson informed Ibsen of their decision to run for sheriff and undersheriff, respectively.
Johnson was removed from his position as the sheriff’s department spokesman on April 29 and is now working as a property crimes detective.
Ibsen, who said he hasn’t decided if he will run for sheriff again, adamantly denies the conversation sparked his decision to remove Johnson from the PIO position, and said the decision to appoint Pavalone was “to get more and more people comfortable with the media.”
“It’s real clear, it was clear to everybody … no one in the department is there forever,” Ibsen said. “Jason was the perfect fit to get it started.”
When contacted by the Missoulian, Johnson declined to comment on the proceedings.
The sheriff’s department also changed the public information officer’s job description in April. According to a third grievance filed with the county, that change also violated the collective bargaining agreement because the union wasn’t notified of the change prior to it being finalized.
The grievance includes copies of two job descriptions – one from 2011 when Johnson was appointed and another from 2013 when Pavalone was appointed as PIO. In the more recent copy, several exclusions can be noted, including the omission of the experience needed to be a public information officer.
Ibsen said the move was needed to broaden the pool of sheriff’s deputies qualified for the position.
In a written response to the grievance, Ibsen said there is no formal job description for the position, and as such there is no job description attached to the collective bargaining agreement.
“An additional related thought is that if the PIO position, rather than the person filing it, is truly an issue that the association feels strongly about, it seems that there has been ample opportunity for the MCDSA to request opening of contract negotiations in an attempt to codify the PIO position or to actually get it as a recognized ‘job description,’ ” he wrote.
“This is another (one) of the factors that makes us believe that it is an issue of who, rather than what,” he added later.
As for additional compensation the grievance alleges Johnson received for performing his duties as the public information officer, Ibsen said that was just from overtime.
“There is no (formal) job description, so there is no additional pay for it,” he said.
On Friday, Ibsen could recall no other positions in his department without a job description.
The Missoula County commissioners haven’t responded to the third grievance, but in response to the first two grievances, commissioners offered a settlement to the union, of which T.J. McDermott is president.
The terms state that the appointment to PIO will be considered a special duty assignment with no additional compensation, will last for two years or as determined appropriate by the sheriff, will be considered a transfer not a promotion and the appointment will be at the sole discretion of the sheriff.
The agreement also offered to pay Johnson $1,204.74 or the equivalent of three hours of overtime every week from April 29 to June 24.
The union rejected the county’s offer.
The commissioners again responded, encouraging the union to make a counteroffer.
“We believe that it is time for this matter to be resolved, either based on the sheriff’s last response or in arbitration, as outlined in the agreement,” the commissioners wrote.
Patricia Baumgart, the county’s human resource director, declined to comment on the particulars of the personnel issue, but said the county is eager to see the matter settled.
The next step, she explained would likely be arbitration, in which an out-of-state arbitrator would mediate the matter until it’s settled.