After a month of pushback to a plan to strip correctional officers of their protective status classification, the Rock County Board passed a resolution to maintain that status for officers.
The measure passed Thursday night guarantees that officers will keep their duty disability protection and collective bargaining rights and that the county will not reduce how much it contributes to officer retirement accounts.
It was the third consecutive board meeting where correctional officers and sheriff’s office officials spoke during public comment. More than 40 people from the sheriff’s office—including correctional officers, the sheriff and the candidates running to replace him— were present for the vote.
Sheriff Robert Spoden, who has been a vocal advocate for keeping the classification, said after the meeting the resolution’s passage is “one of the proudest moments of my career.”
“I’m very, very proud of the county board, and I’m very proud of these officers who basically stood up and said, ‘We will be heard, and we will have our voices heard,’” Spoden said. “We won’t be having a revolving door of officers, and more importantly, we’ve kept our promises. For us to break our word after they (correctional officers) have come in here and done a job most of us wouldn’t do or couldn’t do speaks highly of the county.”
The board passed the resolution 25-1. Bob Yeomans was the only member who voted against it.
Board member Terry Fell on Sept. 13 introduced the measure to maintain the classification. It passed the public safety and justice committee 5-0 on Oct. 1 and the county board staff committee 8-1 on Oct. 9.
Rock County Administrator Josh Smith informed the sheriff’s office and county board in early September that the status would be stripped beginning in 2019.
Protective status is given to public employees who work in dangerous environments. Removing it would have reclassified correctional officers under general status, eliminating their duty disability protections and reducing how much the county contributes to their retirement by 4 percent.
Smith said the decision to remove the status was informed by state law, which he said doesn’t classify correctional officers as law enforcement officers. He said other counties have been rescinding the status, and he thought Rock County should keep in step with state statutes.
He said Rock County is one of 10 counties that classifies correctional officers under protective status.
Correctional officers and the sheriff’s office pushed back on Smith’s proposal quickly. Since Sept. 13, many have been present in the board room, sharing during public comment dangerous encounters they’ve had while serving in the Rock County Jail and trying to convince the board to preserve the status.