County: Sheriff won’t have to payThe Lake County Board of Commissioners voted Tuesday to rescind a 2007 motion requiring Sheriff Carey Johnson to pay legal fees accumulated by the county over a grievance case filed nearly three years ago.
By: Mike Creger, Lake County News Chronicle
The Lake County Board of Commissioners voted Tuesday to rescind a 2007 motion requiring Sheriff Carey Johnson to pay legal fees accumulated by the county over a grievance case filed nearly three years ago.
The vote, along with a document Johnson says shows his stance on the grievance was correct from the beginning, may finally put an end to a case that has aggravated deputies and the board and led to the dissolving of the North Shore Drug Task Force.
“It’s a relief,” Johnson said Wednesday. This fall, the board signed a document offered by the union representing deputies. It states that assignments to task force positions, which are multi-agency operations, can be at the discretion of the sheriff. “It kind of shows (the sheriff) was right in the first place,” board chairman Paul Bergman said.
Johnson said when the union realized what he was warning them about, it did an about-face. “Where were you two years ago,” Johnson said of his reaction.
Deputy Richard DeRosier expected to be named to the task force shortly after Johnson took office because of his seniority and experience. Johnson said he was needed full-time in the county because of his expertise on the canine unit. Johnson denied DeRosier’s claims and it went up the chain to the board and then the courts, which ultimately sided with the union.
The board debated this fall whether it should make Johnson adhere to its motion demanding the sheriff pay court costs above $4,900. Johnson said he used money in his department’s budget to represent the office and it wasn’t right to force him to pay out of his own pocket.
Johnson said he has paid attorneys personally and he won’t fight to get reimbursed, preferring “move on.”
Board member Brad Jones said that when the union sided with Johnson, “It kind of vindicated him in the end. He was moving along the right lines the whole time.”
Bergman said it’s “time to move forward.” He said the board and the sheriff are “100 percent” in agreement and “healing” needs to take place.
But the board vote went 3-2, with Bergman, Jones and Rich Sve for and Rick Goutermont and Tom Clifford against. Other board members and DeRosier could not be reached for comment.
Johnson had said during the grievance battle that it would be a detriment to deputies if temporary assignments to a task force meant they would have to give up a permanent position with the county. DeRosier will begin work in January on Duluth’s Lake Superior Drug and Gang Task Force but won’t lose his standing as the Silver Bay “duty station” deputy should he return. His job in Silver Bay will be filled with a “vacation relief officer.”
If task force assignment is treated as another county “duty station,” the sheriff would have to follow union protocol and offer the job up to bids by deputies based on whoever has seniority through the union rules.
“The union realized this isn’t good for them,” Johnson said. While task force jobs can be attractive to officers, they’d be less so, Johnson said, if it meant going back down on the pecking order when it came to jobs within the county department.
Johnson regrets his “name was dragged through the mud” in the past two years but has “no hard feelings” with fellow deputies or the board. “I’m happy to know I was right all along,” he said. “We just got caught up in the legal process.”