On the EDge: ICSO shows courage with union vote

Stock image, St. George News

OPINION — In the field of law enforcement, the predominant political strain is conservative.

That’s a fact, not a judgment. In fact, I really don’t care what your political leanings are as long as they are based on thoughtful deliberation and not because mommy and daddy were liberal or conservative, your peers are liberal or conservative or your church is liberal or conservative.

In other words, I respect individual beliefs if they are genuine and do no harm to others whether I agree or not.

But, you can imagine my surprise when I opened up a screen on STGNews the other day to learn that the Iron County Sheriff’s Office has unionized.

Hell must have truly frozen over.

Or, at least come visiting at the ICSO.

There is an ugly dispute between Iron County Commissioners and the sheriff’s office right now centered around the dismissal of former deputy Jody Edwards.

As a matter of full disclosure, I have known Jody for about 20 years.

For what it’s worth, I admire Jody as one of the most honest, credible, decent and humble human beings I have ever met.

Look, everybody knows that there is this natural thing between law enforcement officers and the media.

Neither group trusts the other. The cops argue that the newsies dig too much and are always looking for the negative, that reporters are “out to get them,” while the media argues that the cops are reluctant to share information vital to the community, often fail to fully disclose information or get the facts so jumbled that it embarrasses everybody.

I’ve seen good cops, bad cops, mediocre cops.

Jody Edwards is a good cop.

A very good cop.

And, to see him at the center of a controversy, such as this beef between that twisted up bunch that calls itself the Iron County Commissioners and the ICSO, makes my stomach turn.

It centers around the closure of the county ambulance service when it was sold to Gold Cross earlier this year.
Edwards had been a member of the ICSO for 23 years at the time the commissioners “forced” Sheriff Mark Gower — his words, not mine — to terminate him.

The reason?

Petty arrogance.

The commissioners didn’t like that Edwards vocally opposed their decision to privatize the ambulance service so, when they got the opportunity, they eliminated his job. In their minds, it is better to not make waves or, if you do, do so behind closed doors so they aren’t embarrassed by any of their unwise decisions. So, they dealt out a little payback and took away the career of one of the county’s top employees.

But, Edwards has a penchant for truth. He’s an upfront, standup guy who is unafraid to go to the mat, if necessary, to do the right thing, something I cannot say about these commissioners who are mired in self-absorption and ego.

Unfortunately, honesty is a misdemeanor in some political circles where suspicious deals and decisions, longstanding grudges and bullying tactics prevail. Believe me, as a longtime political observer, nobody can be a bigger bully than a locally elected official. They can make life truly miserable if they wish.

Under such circumstances, I can understand why the deputies decided to unionize, even though for most, it had to be a difficult decision.

These men and women have historically worked for far less compensation than their peers in the Cedar City Police Department. Maybe it’s because the police chiefs have been better at the negotiation table than past sheriffs, maybe not. But, whatever the reason, it is time for that to change, along with some protections from a commission that can be vindictive.

Criticize these guys and you’re done.

Well, that’s not how it is supposed to work.

I guarantee that despite comments to the contrary the commission will do its best to bust the union.

Commissioners are already claiming they will not negotiate with it, that Gower will be the only one they will sit at the table with on matters of employment, wages and benefits, which means they are setting themselves up for a whale of a lawsuit that they will surely lose. Even in Utah, where employee rights are marginal at best and people spit out the word union with as much invective as they do the word liberal.

It’s a part of the ultra-conservative culture to be anti-union in Utah, part of the genetics, I think. In fact, I can remember being ostracized not that many years ago because I had the temerity to write stories about employees at a small manufacturing company in Iron County looking to unionize.

I know the flak I took at the time and have a pretty good idea what those trying to form that union were faced with as they took massive heat from family and friends.

I guess that is why I look at the ICSO in a much different light today and applaud the officers for taking a stand.

Unionizing was an unpopular thing to do. They will suffer at the hands of the bullies who decide the budget. They will suffer in public opinion.

But, they stood up for a man they respect, with the understanding that the same thing could happen to them if they don’t toe the line.

It was courageous and, even though Gower and I have gone a few rounds here and there over the years, I must also give him credit for standing tall for one of his men.

What did it gain them?

A slap in the face when the commissioners decided, on Oct. 12, to pass a resolution proclaiming that “public employees in Utah have no right to collective bargaining.”

Commissioner Dale Brinkerhoff took it an insulting step further, saying: “…we’re not going to entertain collective bargaining. Again, we don’t discourage your unionization. You’ll be welcome to sit in budget hearings, but you won’t be at the table. The sheriff is the spokesman for the budget. Give any input you want to the sheriff.”

It took courage for these deputies to take the steps they took.

Of course, standing up to a bully usually does.

Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews, @EdKociela

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2015, all rights reserved.


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  • BIG GUY October 27, 2015 at 8:35 am

    Accepting Ed’s claim that Iron County Commissioners are “petty” and “arrogant,” his description of the situation is explains why conservatives want limited government. Ed’s descriptions of the commissioners in this local case could easily apply to Obama’s EPA, SEC, FCC, NLRB, IRS, Justice Department, VA hospitals, Obamacare and the list goes on. Almost all dimensions of our progressive regulatory Federal government for the last seven years have demonstrated arrogance, dogged pursuit of liberal objectives in the face of continuing policy failures, and serious misuse of government power (the IRS scandal foremost among many).
    If a business treats customers with “petty arrogance,” they take their business elsewhere. When government treats citizens with “petty arrogance,” we have no choice. Ed, your article applied to a necessary local government service, law enforcement, but thanks for reminding your readers why Thomas Jefferson is often quoted as saying, “That government is best which governs least.”

  • tcrider October 27, 2015 at 9:09 am

    big guy I have no idea what you are writing about, but I can tell you unions represent the bargaining unit (also known as the union member, the article is about being in a union, not about obama and the evil government, although obama made a comment about a governor that was anti union, and guess what? he is no longer a presidential candidate. you really need to understand who is for unions and who is against unions and why, conservative politicians are anti union, because big business does make as much money.

  • anybody home October 27, 2015 at 10:38 am

    Same goes for religions…”That religion is best which controls its members least.”

    • sagemoon October 27, 2015 at 11:32 am

      True that!

    • Brian October 27, 2015 at 2:36 pm

      I would agree with your quote, which is why I’m glad my religion doesn’t control me at all. Attendance is entirely voluntary, as is serving in a calling, or donating in any way. My religion teaches me principles which I’m free to agree with or disagree with, and act accordingly. That is self-control (ie. discipleship). The government controls me, the IRS controls me, but not my religion. If you’re looking for examples of people being controlled, look at communism, marxism, socialism, etc. History is full of examples. I’m not defending all religions, mind you, since there are many that do control their members, or some of them, but usually that is very political factions within that religion, rather than the religion itself (as with muslims and islamists).

      • Rainbow Dash October 27, 2015 at 3:55 pm

        “My religion teaches me principles which I’m free to agree with or disagree with, and act accordingly”. Everyone knows that the Mormon cult not only welcomes criticism from it’s members, it ENCOURAGES it. Yep, that is why nothing happened toJohn Dehlin and Kate Kelly when they dared to publicly question and/or criticize the teachings of your cult Brian. Now Brian you also stated in your reply ” The government controls me, the IRS controls me, but not my religion”. If the mormon cult does not try to control it’s members then why did it’s leadership in a letter, written by Bishop Mark M Harrison, tell Kate Kelly what she CAN’T DO in the letter informing her of her excommunication. More specifically why does the contain the following:

        ” You are entitled to your views, but you are not entitled to promote them and proselyte others to them while remaining in full fellowship in the Church”. and;

        ” Having done so, our determination is that you be excommunicated for conduct contrary to the laws and order of the Church. This means that you may not wear temple garments or contribute tithes and offerings. You may not take the sacrament, hold a Church calling, give a talk in Church, offer a public prayer in behalf of the class or congregation in a Church meeting,or vote in the sustaining of Church officers”.

        I await what I’m sure will be a well thought out and researched response from you but not with bated-breath.

        • Rainbow Dash October 27, 2015 at 4:01 pm

          Oh, by the way, if you want to read the letter yourself, click on Kate Kelly’s name in my reply. Or you can also clickhere, here or here.

  • NotSoFast October 27, 2015 at 1:34 pm

    What happens now? Does or does not a new employee still have the choice to join the union to be qualified to work in the department? I have nothing against unions. But what comes next? A closed shop? A Right to Work State makes total sense to me.
    The workers involved here? They have the right to form a union. As for as the Commissioners are concerned?, if you don’t like what they do, ‘To the outhouse they go’ with a simple voting check mark.

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