The Ohio County Commission released their first full statement in regard to a lawsuit from Ohio County deputies from the Sheriff’s Office and Ohio County employees.

Ohio County employees filed three separate lawsuits December 5, 2022 against the Ohio County Commission alleging improper wage and payment issues.

In the first complaint, 29 Ohio County sheriff’s deputies allege that they were denied at least one week of pay due to a payroll change. The plaintiffs allege they have been denied at least one week’s pay by way of the county switching the payroll to being paid ahead by two days to be being paid entirely in arrears.

In the second complaint, 31 county employees claim they were improperly paid during the COVID-19 pandemic, alleging that other county employees received full pay, but worked half the hours when the plaintiffs did not. The plaintiffs allege they should have been paid the same as other county employees during COVID, that is to work half the hours for full pay.

This complaint alleges that then-Ohio County Administrator Greg Stewart told county employees at the start of the pandemic in March 2020 that they could work rotating shifts for distancing, but that they would still receive their normal pay. Many employees in this group were sheriff’s deputies who allege they were not paid properly and only received a $1,000 hero pay in April 2020.

In the third complaint, 16 workers allege they were forced to use their own paid sick time to comply with county COVID quarantine policy, or otherwise not coming to work when the reason they could not come to work was caused by a work event.

The statement can be read in full below:

‘The Ohio County Commission wants to be sure that the citizens of Ohio County understand that general public safety, especially during a pandemic, is a primarily governmental goal that the Ohio County Commission takes seriously. This statement is to dispel some misconceptions that have been asse1ied by a lawsuit filed by the Ohio County Sheriffs deputies against the Ohio County Commission. To the extent that a contra1y message has been placed in the media for debate, the Ohio County Commission intends this statement to reinforce its commitment to public safety. While the Ohio County Commission appreciates the hard work and dedication that our men and women in law enforcement provide for our citizens, we are compelled to affirmatively counter assertions made in the press suggesting that the Ohio County Commission unfairly treated employees of the Ohio County Sheriffs Department.

First and foremost, no employee or deputy “lost” a week’s paycheck when the Ohio County Commission converted its payment of wages from a payment in advance model to a model of paying each employee of the County after they have actually worked the hours of each week. The payment model of paying employees for what they actually worked is a model called “payment in arrears”. This is one of the most common forms of payment models which provides ample time for proper payroll processing and paying employees for time actually worked and not in advance. Counter to what has been portrayed, the Ohio County Commission change in payroll models was making payroll operations more efficient, paying for work already performed, and making all payroll processing consistent across all County departments and elected official offices.

To implement the payment in arrears system, the County made it known to all employees, elected officials, and department managers of the Ohio County Commission’s intent to change the model in advance. In the proper time frame, the County provided each employee and office/department impacted the opportunity to meet with each employee group and/or individually to explain the change in payment model. Also, if any employee was burdened by the change in systems, the Ohio County Commission stood ready to help the employee through the transition. Some elected officials participated in such meetings to understand the change, but some did not, including the Sheriff and his department.

To clear up another misconception and improper assertion that deputies of Ohio County Sheriffs Department did not receive any additional pay during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the deputies of the Ohio County Sheriffs Department actually received an added $3,000 in base salary increase primarily due to their work during the COVID-19 pandemic. This increase became a fixed amount of their base rate and has been realized over the past three years and will continue.

This base rate adjustment was in addition to another $1,000 base rate adjustment during 2020 which was also provided to all County employees as part of a general pay increase by the Ohio County Commission.

In addition to the above base rate increases provided to the Sheriff’s Department, deputies during the Covid-19 pandemic each deputy of the Ohio County Sheriff’s Department received an amount of $1,000 as “Hero’s Pay” as passed through from the State of West Virginia as a “bonus” for first responders who worked through the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Emergency Medical Service employees received $500.00 Hero’s Pay and the employees of the 911 Communications Center received $250.00 Hero’s Pay.

Furthermore, deputies of the Ohio County Sheriff’s Department worked either 8 or 10 hour shifts. They are paid 1 hour for lunch, and at the Sheriff’s direction, instructions are given to our payroll department to pay the deputies 1 hour for personal time to go to the gym. This gym benefit is not offered to any other County employees.

Also, as an additional benefit to being a deputy sheriff in Ohio County it has recently been the Commission’s policy to allow the deputies “take home cars” owned by the County to get to and from their residences each day they are scheduled to work which puts each member “on shift” for time worked driving to and from their residences. All deputies are permitted to “take home” their vehicles and to be “on shift”, which is not provided to any other County employee.

As for “extra work” duty at the Ohio County Development Authority owned Highlands and Sports Complex, the Ohio County Development Authority has experienced that the number of hours available and requests for extra work to be covered by deputies have not been uniformly covered by the Sheriff Department. This has left the Development and Sports Complex without security at weekend events or to meet other Development security needs that has subjected the Ohio County Development Authority and the Development tenants and participants at the Sports Complex with a lack of proper security and potentially creating a public safety risk.

The biggest concern the Ohio County Commission has with the Ohio County Sheriff’s Department relative to the Highlands is a lack of response and meeting the coverage needs requested over several months by the Ohio County Development Authority representatives to cover the needs that they were contracted to support for “extra duty pay,” but was simply not being fulfilled

During the first 12-18 months of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Ohio County Commission struggled like most entities due to the unprecedented events of a pandemic that had not occurred in over 100 years. The Ohio County Commission faced the same trials and tribulations as other governmental entities with the closing of buildings, shutdowns, and the ever-changing rules relative to Covid-19 contacts and contaminations. When the Ohio County Commission had to close the Courthouse at periods of time due to Covid-19 transmissions without a vaccination in place in 2020 from March 30 to May 18, the Ohio County Commission directed the elected officer holders and department managers to do their best to keep their offices open and available for work but also to keep its staff employees safe from Covid-19 contacts and infections. A very small number of administrative employees were permitted to flex schedules at the direction of the elected official for whom they worked. This was agreeable to the County Commission in order to be able to social distance and still serve the public and continue to work. To say that employees were allowed to work half time and receive full pay is an assumption not supported by facts. It is also to be noted that the employees in question are not only small in numbers but some of our lowest paid employees. The commissioners made a conscious decision to put this matter in the hands of the respective elected officials knowing that they would do the right thing and get the work done and protect their employees. It is important to note that these employees like everyone else, depend on their pay to support their families. Punishing them for a problem not created by them is just plain wrong. Trying to twist this action into a policy of “Covid pay” is ridiculous and quite honestly selfish and misdirected.

Since the sheriff deputies were not working in the building and public safety still demanded full patrols, the deputies were required to continue to work their full shifts. The deputies choose to be first responders and first responders meet the call of duty under various circumstances including a pandemic. All employees within the Sherriff’s department were paid for all their hours worked in addition to the other added compensation noted in this statement. The Ohio County Commission used its best judgement regarding all COVID related matters when it came to responding to both the needs of our citizens and all County related employees, including the members of the Ohio County Sheriffs Department.’