By C. Jayden Smith
Deciding not to interfere in ongoing labor negotiations involving the Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs (AOCDS), the San Clemente City Council declined sending a letter expressing its concerns to the Orange County Board of Supervisors.
Mayor Gene James unilaterally tabled the letter that would’ve urged board supervisors not to agree to unreasonable pay raises and warned of potential negative effects that could occur if cities such as San Clemente had to reduce expenditures in other important budget areas.
One of the major concerns that the now-abandoned letter raised was the level of election-related funds that employee unions have spent to support certain supervisorial candidates and oppose others in the latest race.
“We are extremely concerned about the hundreds of thousands of public employee union dollars being used for independent expenditures for and against certain Board of Supervisor candidates,” the proposed letter read.
“It begs the question; what is being promised by candidates being supported by the (deputies’ union)?” the letter later asked. “It certainly appears at least one supervisor candidate is being bought by the union.”
San Clemente is among the 13 cities in the county that contracts with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department for police services. For Fiscal Year 2022-23, San Clemente budgeted around $21 million, or 26%, of its General Fund expenditures toward police services.
According to the city’s letter, “unreasonable pay raises” would result in the council being forced to either reduce the number of deputies patrolling San Clemente, reduce other city services, or find another law enforcement option altogether.
James expressed his concerns about the deputy sheriff union’s actions along with the Orange County Employees Association in the elections. With police services and Orange County Fire Authority contracts, in addition to spending on marine safety services, comprising 46.2% of General Fund expenditures this fiscal year, James said the city was at the breaking point.
“What I’m hearing is (AOCDS is) looking for a 5% pay increase every year for three years, and that concerns me,” he said.
According to the union’s most recent campaign finance forms covering up to Oct. 22, the AOCDS Independent Expenditure Committee spent roughly $1.9 million to date in the 2022 elections.
Within the period, the committee purchased $150,000, in cable buys supporting Second District candidate Kim Nguyen; $100,000 to support Fourth District candidate Doug Chaffee, the incumbent; and $87,500 each in buys to support Fifth District candidate Katrina Foley, the incumbent, and oppose Foley’s challenger, State Sen. Patricia Bates.
The committee also has spent nearly $326,340 supporting Nguyen; about $298,176 supporting Doug Chaffee; and roughly $262,816 in favor of Foley within the 2022 calendar year as of Oct. 22.
James added that although none of the alternatives such as reducing deputies or city services were acceptable to him, he said he would not sit back and let the eventual agreement break the city’s budget either. He suggested San Clemente encourage other cities contracted with OCSD to raise a concern about public spending.
Councilmember Kathy Ward said the council should instead direct its sentiments toward interim City Manager Sean Joyce, who administers the contract between the city and OCSD. However, Joyce said he cannot discuss labor negotiations with other cities.
“I’m just saying we should probably not be stepping into this now that I see it in writing,” Ward said.
She mentioned that a similar discussion would arise while discussing the city’s Long Term Financial Plan (LTFP) in the future and encouraged James to reach out to the supervisors on his own regarding the council’s discussion Tuesday night.
“This is not about (San Clemente Police Services Capt. Tony Benfield), this is not about the deputies, this is about union bosses (and) cost,” said James. “I’m willing to withdraw this (conversation) this evening, but during the first meeting with the new council I would suggest we create a subcommittee to take a look at that contract (with police services).”
Given the lack of a seat at the table for labor negotiations, Joyce suggested that speaking with the Fifth District supervisor would be the best course of action for getting the council’s voice heard.
As of this posting, Foley remained in the lead for the Fifth District seat, which covers many South County cities including Dana Point, San Clemente and San Juan Capistrano.
Unions were influential in electing candidates to office, according to Councilmember Laura Ferguson, who projected that such candidates would support the unions’ wishes and not remain objective.
“I’d just like to see the next council go ahead and address this because it is a little deeper than what we have here on this page for them to consider,” Ferguson said of the letter.
Mayor Pro Tem Chris Duncan advised against the council involving itself in labor negotiations and advocated for more police and paying each deputy a higher salary.
“I think they risk their lives for us, and I couldn’t stand behind statements that tend to—and I know that’s not what you mean, Mayor James—cut the other way there,” said Duncan.
Duncan agreed with James’ suggestion to withdraw the topic and added that finding ways to increase revenue was the solution for rising costs, not cutting necessary services or staff.
C. Jayden Smith
C. Jayden Smith graduated from Dana Hills High in 2018 before pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in digital and broadcast journalism from the University of North Texas. After graduating in December 2020, he reported for the Salina Journal in Salina, Kansas. Jayden loves college football and bothering his black lab named Shadow.