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O.C. sheriff reveals major reorganization

Facing a large budget deficit, Sandra Hutchens consolidates key services and cuts command staff.

August 18, 2009|Tami Abdollah

Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens on Monday unveiled a dramatic reorganization of the department that will consolidate such major services as operations and investigations and cut captains who oversee training and special projects.

The changes combine similar services under one supervisor and increase the sheriff's role in overall operations. They are intended to help offset the department's $28-million budget shortfall.

Over the last three weeks, Hutchens has personally informed each member of her command staff whether they will stay or go. Those leaving include Assistant Sheriffs Jack Anderson and John B. Davis, as well as Capts. Deana Bergquist, Brian Cossairt, Robert Eason and Christine Murray. Capt. Catherine Zurn decided to retire earlier this month.

The layoffs will take effect in September.

"These are people who have been with the organization a long time," Hutchens said in a recent interview. "Everybody would like to be in the position of saying when they go. But this economy, and our budget gap, is forcing me to do this."

Anderson has been with the department for more than 23 years and served as acting sheriff for five months after Michael S. Carona resigned to face federal criminal charges; he was convicted of one count of witness tampering.

Anderson was often linked to Carona because of his role on Carona's command staff. He also was a finalist to replace him. As acting sheriff, Anderson took strong steps to clean up the department, including inviting the FBI to investigate the death of an inmate in a county jail.

Anderson was unavailable for comment. In a statement, he said he would most cherish the honor of leading the department for a short time and would pursue other opportunities to be a "servant leader."

Murray also had links to Carona: She was indicted on multiple misdemeanor counts of illegal campaign fundraising for him. In exchange for having criminal charges dropped, Murray agreed to perform community service, cooperate in an internal investigation and write letters of regret to colleagues she had asked to support Carona's reelection.

The restructuring means that field operations and investigative services will be combined under one supervisor, and that custody and court services will be combined under another. Two captains will become area commanders and will help the assistant sheriffs with their expanded duties. The coroner and crime lab will report directly to Hutchens.

The reshuffling has been extensive. Seven of the nine remaining captains will have new duties. Two captains were also temporarily promoted to area commanders and will help the assistant sheriffs with their expanded roles.

"I see the logic behind what went into this," said Capt. Jay LeFlore, who will become an area commander and is president of the Assn. of County Law Enforcement Managers. "I look forward to the new jobs and the new tasks."

In a letter to the department Monday afternoon, Hutchens said the cuts were made to "preserve the delivery of front-line law enforcement." She said no decisions were based on performance but "on the elimination or consolidation of functions."

"I view these cuts as temporary. . . ," she wrote. "I fully intend to rebuild the department when the economy improves."

Last month, Hutchens informed the Board of Supervisors that she would have to lay off 42% of her command staff, including six of 14 captains and two of four assistant sheriffs, to cover the budget shortfall. In fact, only five captains were cut -- those supervising James A. Musick Jail, court services, special projects, support services and training -- because contract partners are willing to help cover costs, said sheriff's spokesman Jim Amormino.

By cutting from the top, Hutchens saves the department $2.2 million and avoids laying off 16 investigators and two sergeants.

An additional 25 to 30 people will lose their jobs. Those layoffs are pending and the employees will probably be notified in the coming weeks.

Many employees will be allowed to shift positions to alleviate the department's excessive overtime, while others may drop to a lower job classification -- potentially forcing out a less senior employee. The restructuring will affect 199 positions.

Many of the command staff who are losing their jobs have 25 to 30 years of department experience, so they probably will get hefty retirement benefits.

The cuts are primarily due to plunging Proposition 172 sales tax revenue, which funds about 43% of the sheriff's $460-million operating budget in 2009-10.

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tami.abdollah@latimes.com

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