County votes for equal treatment for DUI, other arrests

By Lisa ZahnerINDIAN RIVER COUNTY — In a 5-0 vote, the Board of County Commissioners Tuesday made a move toward treating all of its employees equally in the event they are arrested for Driving under the Influence or other similiar charges.The commissioners changed administration policy, combining parts of the contracts with the Teamsters Local 769 and the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 2201 and creating a new policy to apply to all employees. The only two employees who will not be covered — unless their contracts were renegotiated — are County Attorney Will Collins and County Administrator Joe Baird. The new standards, however, will be negotiated into subsequent contracts with the holders of those two positions.The commissioners allowed the public, themselves and staff to critique how different classes of county employees are or should be disciplined after an arrest, less than three weeks after County Administrator Baird was found not guilty on charges of DUI from May 16. Commissioners Gary Wheeler and Bob Solari raised the issue.

“This was a commitment we made when this came up when Mr. Baird was arrested for DUI,” Wheeler said. “We didn’t allow people to go into any detail at the time and I said I would bring it back up regardless of the outcome in his case.”Commissioner Joe Flescher had wanted to explore the discussion back in June, in response to the barrage of comments he was receiving from angry consituents. He was please the issue finally got addressed in earnest.”In the spirit of more fairness and having a policy that addresses the situation that concerns the board, It does appear that we’re going in the right direction,” he said. “No matter what job or rank or position you’re in, everyone should be treated the same.”Indian River County resident Joe Wiggins approached the podium to echo the concerns of many over the past four months that the county, in the past, has practiced a double-standard in applying its policy. The county has the right, under the Drug-Free Workplace Policy, to discipline employees with unpaid suspension or up to termination for an arrest, but they allowed Baird to stay on the job with full salary and benefits pending his DUI trial.”There seem to be different scenarios, some people are getting severely punished and some people seem to be above the law,” Wiggins said. Though several local residents voiced their opinions about DUI in general, about whether or not Baird should be driving a car with vertigo and how employees should be treated equally, no matter what their department or title, no county employees spoke on the issue. Two representatives of the Sheriff’s Office were present, plus several department heads and one member of the IAFF.Mark Daniels, secretary/treasurer of the IAFF Local 2201, watched the meeting on television and said he hadn’t had the chance to compare the verbiage of the provision passed by commissioners to the various union contracts and to the Florida Drug-Free Workplace Act, but agreed with the aim of the measure.”I think that their intent is to make a level playing field for contract and non-contract employees,” Daniels said.

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