By Dave Rogers

For The Record

Orange County officials and reps for the county’s sheriff deputies’ union will be looking to feel some more “good vibrations” when they meet today at 1 p.m. at the County Administration Building to discuss a new collective bargaining agreement.

The groups have operated under the terms of a CBA that expired in 2013 because no progress could be made toward a new one.

But that changed last Wednesday, April 12.

When Sheriff Keith Merritt told the leaders of both groups he would never accept a “just cause” provision like the one he inherited when he was first elected in 2009, County Judge Stephen Brint Carlton suggested the county and the deputies sever the rest of the employment conditions and negotiate other details.

In a little more than an hour of back-and-forth spread out over a three-hour period, Gregory Cagle, attorney for the Orange County Sheriff’s Office Employees’ Association, and its president, Sgt. Jimmy LeBouef, found agreement with the terms offered by the county.

They said, however, they needed to meet with their rank and file before going forward, and so the negotiations took a week’s break.

“We definitely took a large step today,” LeBouef said, “but we still have some little hurdles to overcome. Hopefully that will be ironed out in the next few days or weeks.”

Carlton, whose term in office began in 2015, had only an unsuccessful try at contract talks in 2016 to go on. This was the first meeting between the two groups since Sept. 1, 2016.

“I feel good about how the negotiations went,” Carlton said. “We got closer than we did in 2016 and, from my understanding, the last time before that, in 2013 and 2014, so I’m feeling good about it.”

The union’s reps agreed with the county’s suggestion that a new contract run for 12 months, plus a 12-month “evergreen” period for negotiation; after which an impasse would go to a five-member citizen panel, then a district judge for resolution.

The county’s offer included no change in the Sheriff Office Wage and Salary Scale, but a 1.5 percent cost of living adjustment. The union members would be subject to the same increase and decrease in pay and or benefits that non-union county employees might receive.

The “just cause” issue, Merritt says, means that he can’t get rid of “bad apples” because it robs him of the ability to hire and fire at will.

The county’s offer means the deputies will have to negotiate a separate contract with the sheriff.

“I think they’re a lot closer than what they’ve ever been before, so I’m encouraged about what tomorrow’s going to bring,” Merritt said Tuesday. “I’m going to find out tomorrow the same as everybody else.”