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Who protects the police?

By Staff | Sep 8, 2011

To the editor,

Recently, I have been asked many times how I feel about members of the Lee County Sheriff’s Office voting to form a collective bargaining union. Simply said, I am proud of them.

The unexplored question at large is why did the deputies of the Lee County Sheriff’s Office decide to unionize? Since its formation in 1887 the deputies have never unionizeduntil now.

The current Sheriff, prior to taking office in 2005, sought and received substantial support from large local public service unions on a campaign of “unfairness.” This same person called his previous boss unfair, so he sought out and won union support during the election. But after this Sheriff took office 6 years ago, he quickly turned on his former union helpers. This Sheriff promised one thing, but did another.

Recently, to appease folks on both sides of the coin, and just after the union was voted in, he quipped he “respect[ed] the process and a majority clearly feels that a union is best for them” (Aug. 11, 2011, Marco News). Then, he writes a self-penned commentary where he pledges to be anti-union (Sheriff Mike Scott, Aug. 26, 2011, News-Press). A lot of heads shake in wonder. Is he pro-union or anti-union? What is he for or what is he against? No one wants a Keystone Kop as Sheriff. Perhaps that, in part, is why the deputies felt a union was important.

In the August 2011 opinion commentary by the Sheriff (Mike Scott, Aug. 26, 2011, News-Press), he is quoted as being anti-union and he over-dramatized certain requests typical of initial union bargaining (it appeared the Sheriff tried to publicly embarrass his own sergeants last week. I question how such public ridicule benefits anyone). The Sheriff, especially on the start of an election year, is constantly flip-flopping his position on any number of items, the union included. Of course, there are wage and salary issues at hand. Some feel a driving force behind the men and women at the Sheriff’s Office to organize is rooted not so much in wage issues, but in the current Sheriff’s long history of unfair and inconsistent treatment.

Generally, internal office politics do not affect those outside of the office. Normally, I would agree. However, I argue differently in this case. Being that I am a former U.S. Marine and a former Commanding Officer at the Lee County Sheriff’s Office, I can attest that the men and women of the Sheriff’s Office are treated unfairly and inconsistently, eroding the ability for those personnel to work effectively and efficiently.

I’d ask you to think: Would you work hard every day, giving it your all, if you knew your career and the livelihood of your family could be ended simply by the whim of one person for “at-will” reasons with a media parade as the Sheriff “decries” your actions? Looking at the larger picture, it simply means our businesses and neighborhoods are not as safe as they could be and our tax money is not being used to its fullest potential.

Like I said, I am proud. I am proud that those who protect us have decided to take a stand against unfair and detrimental practices that go far beyond salary and wages. Personally, I see the union as a checks-and-balances program to ensure fair management. And, well, fairness will equal better county law enforcement practices and that equals more bang for our hard earned dollar. That’s something I think we can all look forward too.

So, is the union a good thing or a bad thing? That’s a question for all of us individually to answer for ourselves. But what I do think is a good thing is that the deputies who protect us now have a body to protect them.

Lee Bushong

Lehigh Acres