Last week, Maricopa County cut an extra $2 million worth of checks -- money owed to detention officers as part of a settlement with the Department of Labor after its investigation into allegations that the Sheriff's Office routinely required detention officers to check in for meetings before they'd clocked in.
But, bizarrely, when county administrators informed Sheriff Joe Arpaio's office that the checks were ready, the sheriff refused to distribute them, county officials tell New Times.
Instead, in an e-mail to employees, MCSO Director Sheridan (no first name given) said that there was a settlement only in principle: "There is no signed agreement." The email seemed to suggest that checks for the backpay were still a work in progress: "Until such time as the agreement with the Department of Labor is complete and we receive details relating to the final agreement, we cannot verify when .. the checks will be distributed."
The e-mail was bizarre, because, county officials says, the MCSO knew the checks were ready. (And, anyway, there was a signed agreement between the county and the feds.)
Forced to take the lead on the issue, County Manager David Smith notified current employees in an email Friday that they could pick up their checks in the lobby of the county administration this week -- and asked for the media's help in spreading the word to former employees.
At that point, Chief Deputy David Hendershott fired off another e-mail to detention officers.
In it, he proffered the conspiracy theory that Smith refused to work with the sheriff's office on distribution "to create bad moral [sic] within the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office."
"Sheriffs employees should also know that Mr.Smith in an overt effort to publicly humiliate the sheriff and create a negative perception of the Sheriffs [sic] Office released his false and misleading missive to the Maricopa County Website and the media." he wrote. "Regrettably Mr. Smith placed all involved officers names on the County's public website exposing their identities and creating unnecessary safety risk to our employees and their families."
The message concluded, "Sheriff Arpaio and the Sheriff's Command staff are totally dedicated to ensuring that our employees are treated not only fair [sic] but enjoy their careers at the Sheriff's Office."
The sad part is, Hendershott may have been more upset about his office's bungling the public relations part of the check distribution than the inconvenience to his officers. (Indeed, if the county manager was trying to make Arpaio & Co. look bad with his own staff, he definitely succeeded -- score another one for David Smith.)
And, worst of all, moral -- oops, morale -- is apparently so bad at the Sheriff's Office these days that even Hendershott's alarmist emails didn't have the detention officers fearing the big bad scary public. They're too busy fearing Hendershott.
Indeed, several officers told KPHO that they feared retaliation if they picked up their checks. The problem, apparently, was that little faux-cheery enjoinder to "enjoy their careers" -- to people used to Chief Deputy Hendershott, it sounded kind of like "have a nice life, suckas!"
The good news, though, is that by 5 p.m. today, close to half of the officers had made the pickup: 768 out of 1,690 affected officers.
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County Spokeswoman Cari Gerchick said the county was delighted to give the detention officers their checks.
"They earned this money," she said. "It's a shame they had to wait this long to get it."
Anyone who worked as a detention officer from 2007 to 2010 is encouraged to look at the county website, www.maricopa.gov, to see if they're on the list. And please, don't fall for Hendershott's paranoia and freak out if your name is on there. No one is going to hunt you down. Heck, Sheriff Joe's home address has been widely available for years online and he can't find anyone to attack him, even with frantic efforts at entrapment.
Just go get your check already!