Traverse City Record-Eagle

June 19, 2013

Tension boils over Benzie undersheriff position

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — BEULAH — Benzie County remains undersheriff-less as county commissioners and sheriff’s department leaders continue a six-month-long battle over pay and benefits that spurred talk of inter-government lawsuits.

Both sides discussed legal action during a tense Tuesday morning county commission meeting, but by afternoon the parties had begun to back away from the idea of going to court. Commissioners did pass a resolution that requested Sheriff Ted Schendel to appoint an undersheriff, stating they have “repeatedly sought” his cooperation in making a timely appointment.

‘We were told by the sheriff we can’t force him, and if we force him he might sue us,” said Commissioner Roger Griner. “We did not force him, we asked him.”

Schendel said the delay boils down to the undersheriff’s pay, and commissioners keep “constantly pushing back on the agreement.”

Detective Sgt. David Tucker has been acting undersheriff since October 2011 under a letter of understanding that allowed him to remain in the department’s union and draw overtime and other union benefits. The new county board, elected in November 2012, had other thoughts and wanted Schendel to appoint Tucker or another officer to take the salaried, non-union position.

Griner said state law requires the sheriff to appoint an undersheriff in a reasonable time, and most do so on their first day in office.

“We think six months is reasonable,” Griner said.

Tucker, the husband of county Commissioner Lisa Tucker, wanted the board to allow him to return to the union if the sheriff changes at the next election and freeze his accumulated sick and vacation time for that return, said Maridee Cutler, the county’s human resources director. The board eventually agreed, but initially miscalculated David Tucker’s accrued time.

Salary and overtime now remains the sticking point. Tucker currently makes more as a command officer collecting overtime pay than he would at the offered salary of $51,000.

“I’m not asking for a raise, but with added responsibility should come more pay, not less pay,” Tucker said.

Schendel said sergeants make $50,000 a year with overtime, which can bump the pay to $58,000 a year.

“With all these differences in salaries, it’s created a situation where he is now going to be second-in-command in the sheriff’s office … and make less than a subordinate,” Schendel said.

Griner said the board sets the pay, not the hours, and they won’t pay overtime to the undersheriff.

Schendel said he planned to seek legal counsel and will attempt to iron out the issue with the county’s human resources department.

“We’re going to resolve this,” Schendel said.