By Dave Rogers

For The Record

If last week’s agenda item concerning deputy certificate pay seemed geared to restarting stalled contract negotiations between Orange County and its law enforcers, there was no pussy-footing around Tuesday.

County Commissioners voted 3-2 to put a six-week deadline on continuing to pay deputies extra for job-related continuing education.

“I believe smart people with good intentions can get anything done in 30 days. I’d like to use those 30 days to get a contract,” Barry Burton, Commissioner Precinct 2, said in putting forth the resolution.

Burton and County Judge Stephen Brint Carlton, who joined the court together in 2015; and Jody Crump, Commissioner Precinct 4, who is the court’s longest tenured member having begun his service in 2011, voted in favor of Burton’s resolution.

Commissioners Johnny Trahan, Precinct 1, and John Gothia, Precinct 3, voted no. The January 2017 newcomers to the court pleaded for more time to get familiar with the issue: a collective bargaining agreement between the county and its deputies that expired in 2013 and the three-plus years of fruitless negotiations since.

The CBA contained an “evergreen” clause interpreted to say its terms stay in effect until a replacement CBA is finalized, but the county’s reading of the contract is that certificate pay was not mandated after 2012.

The county’s stance, as expressed by Carlton, is that the payment of certificate pay – about $27,000 per month — has been voluntary since 2012.

Crump, who was away for a funeral last week when there was a 2-2 vote on the issue of continuing the certificate pay, offered a resolution Tuesday to terminate the payments as soon as possible, at the end of the April 9 pay period.

That motion failed on a 2-3 vote, with only Carlton and Crump voting for it.

Then Burton, asked for a 30-day cutoff for the pay.

“Are you sure you don’t want a longer period?” Trahan said. “I think that seems to be rushing things.”

Gothia suggested a 90-day cutoff. Then he asked for a closed session to learn more about the CBA and the state of negotiations from Carlton and Crump and outside counsel.

“It’s hard to vote on something we don’t know about,” Trahan said.

Gothia agreed.

“For me to put a time frame on somebody’s money that hinges on details I don’t know, I just don’t feel comfortable about that,” Gothia said.

Commissioners agreed to schedule a closed session for the benefit of Trahan and Gothia ahead of next week’s April 4 commissioners’ court session.

And the resolution offered up by Burton – and passed 3-2 – continues certificate pay until May 8, but offers commissioners a chance to review the progress of negotiations at its April 25 meeting and possibly extend pay past May 8.

“We need to get some urgency back [to negotiating,]” Burton said. “I’m tired of this adversarial relationship we have with the Sheriff’s Office.

“I’m not on the negotiating team, but I hear we’re close. If we are, it shouldn’t take us long.”