There are exceptions -- some deputies will be able to take time off.
By PATRICIA MEADE
VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Until further notice, Mahoning County deputy sheriffs working day turn in the jail cannot take vacation or any other kind of leave.
In an order issued Tuesday, Sheriff Randall A. Wellington canceled "all approved leaves" for the corrections division staff.
The order is in response to what he termed three improperly filed narrative reports that allege an unsafe working environment related to staffing shortages. The sheriff said today that the deputies' complaints aren't valid; the current staffing is adequate.
"They asked me to do something, so I did," Wellington said today.
At any given time, four deputies who work the 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. shift are on vacation or some other form of approved leave, such as personal days off or accumulated time off, the sheriff said. His order affects all forms of time off and extends to sick leave call-offs, which he wants the jail administrator to report to internal affairs for possible investigation.
Wellington said there are exceptions to his order.
If, for example, a deputy already has airline and hotel reservations that cannot be canceled without losing money, the vacation will be approved. Likewise, if a deputy is getting married on a specific date, the time off will be approved.
The sheriff said the action he is taking is well within the union contract.
Last week, a formal complaint signed by 20 deputies who work in the jail said the day shift was forced to work with only 25 deputies. The deputies called it a dangerous situation.
Jail Warden Alki Santamas said that, typically, 23 deputies work the main jail on Fifth Avenue and four are assigned to the misdemeanant jail on Commerce Street.
The complaint said staffing allows for a deputy to be assigned to each inmate pod and cover other mandatory posts at the jail, but only one "float" deputy to respond to emergencies.
If an emergency arises that calls for more deputies, staff is available within the main jail -- in the records, detective and administration divisions, said Maj. Michael Budd.
Last week, Wellington responded to the formal complaint by saying that the root of the staffing problem is chronic absenteeism, mostly because deputies call off sick, leaving vacancies that must be filled on the day shift.
Because of a budget crunch, Wellington has cut out overtime, which means deputies working an extra shift garner accumulated time to be used as time off at a later date.
Patrick Gallagher, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 141, agreed last week that absenteeism is a problem. He said deputies are overworked and it is often the only way they can take time off.
In the past, if enough deputies did not volunteer to work overtime to cover vacancies, those with the least seniority were recruited and forced to work, Gallagher said.
Wellington said that's true but he can no longer force deputies to work overtime since he's not paying them.
Gallagher could not be reached this morning.