Island County sued by police guild

COUPEVILLE — The Island County Deputy Sheriffs’ Guild is suing the county over failed contract negotiations and allegations that county officials violated state public records laws.

Island County deputies have been working without a contract since their previous agreement expired in 2008, according to the lawsuit filed Nov. 16 in Snohomish County Superior Court. The suit asks for lost wages, interest and other damages. It doesn’t specify a dollar amount.

“We did it because we weren’t getting answers,” guild President Darren Crownover said Thursday.

County officials declined to comment for this story, citing the litigation.

The guild alleges that contract negotiations are in limbo due to inaction by the county.

Both parties at some point in the past few years entered dispute resolution with the state Public Employment Relations Commission without a result, the suit says.

They’ve also been unable to agree on an appropriate arbitrator, said the guild’s attorney, James Cline.

State law says both parties should have input on selecting an arbitrator, Cline said Thursday. The county has insisted on choosing one without the guild, he said.

The deputies are “deeply frustrated,” he said.

“They’ve gone a long time without a contract, and they’re trying to get this contract resolved, but we can’t even get the county to a hearing,” he said.

The guild hired Cline in June. His firm also alleges that the county failed to fulfill or respond to public records requests.

The requests were made for documents routinely needed in contract negotiations, including budget records, he said.

The county “coughed up a pile of records” days after the suit was filed, but still hasn’t provided everything requested, Cline said.

The county had not filed a response to the suit as of Thursday, Cline said.

The guild also has a filed a second, separate suit against Island County in Skagit County, Crownover said. The suit alleges that the county violated labor laws regarding compensation claims for line-of-duty injuries.

The guild represents about 31 deputies who patrol Whidbey and Camano islands. A separate guild represents about 16 corrections deputies. The sheriff’s office command staff, including Sheriff Mark Brown, aren’t represented by a labor group.

The deputies’ wages and benefits are negotiated between the guilds and the county commissioners, Brown said.

The sheriff is not actively involved in those negotiations, he said.

State law allows for lawsuits against county governments to be filed in adjacent counties.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449; rking@heraldnet.com

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