IFS Battle Brewing? Jail employees say they were threatened by county official

Jail Bars
As part of the ongoing jail-transfer process, Escambia County Human Resources Director Tom Turner met with a group of jail employees yesterday. The parties differ on the main take-away from the closed-door meeting.

According to the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office, which currently operates the jail, Turner told a group of more than 50 medical employees that if they accepted a payout for accrued time from the sheriff they risked not being hired by the county on the other side of the transfer. The sheriff contends that the employees would need to end their service with the ECSO (leading to a payout of holiday, vacation and sick time) prior to being hired by the county.

“When the employees asked what their fallback position would be were all of them to quit, they were told ‘We have a plan,’” said ECSO Public Information Officer Sena Maddison in an email. She said that Turner was apparently asked to advise the employees on this matter by Interim County Administrator George Touart.

Escambia County Public Information Manager Kathleen Dough-Castro said that this was not the case. She said Turner did not connect the employees’ future employment with Escambia County to the payouts.

The county spokeswoman did say that Turner had discussed the payouts—funds for which lie in the sheriff’s internal service fund (IFS), a budgetary point of contention between the ECSO and Escambia County Commission—and that the county hoped to “negotiate a package” that saw some of the buyout related funds not payed out.

“We’re asserting that they can bring some or part of their leave with them,” Dough-Castro said.

The sworn statements received by the Independent News from the medical services employees at the meeting with Turner paint a different picture of the meeting.

“Mr. Turner did make the statement that there has been some discussion by one of the commissioners that if an employee decided to get paid out by the ECSO then that person may not be eligible for rehire,” one employee told the investigator in a sworn statement.

Another employee said, “Mr. Turner told us that if we were to take our leave buyout from the sheriff’s department, that we may be terminated by the Board of County Commissioners. Then he turned around and said if we take our buyout, then we’re saying that we no longer want to work for the Board of County Commissioners and we will not be offered a job.”

The employees said that Turner would not identity to which commissioner he was referring. They do say that they felt threatened by his comments.

ECSO Chief Deputy Eric Haines said when he later met with county staff on the jail transition that Turner denied saying the medical employees would not be hired if they accepted a buyout.

“He just said if the IFS fund is depleted they might not could hire them,” Haines said. “He’s saying he told them it was a possibility.”

The IFS fund has been a political football for Interim County Administrator Touart and BCC Chairman Gene Valentino since April. Sheriff David Morgan established it years ago to pay accumulated leave when employees retire or leave the agency. The sheriff says that he is obligated by contract to off the earned time when the jail employees leave his department and become county employees. Touart and Valentino want the funds to go the county’s general fund.

Human Resources Director Tom Turner and Interim County Administrator George Touart refused to be interviewed about the meeting with the jail employees.