Santa Clara County Exec Spars with Sheriff Over IT Staffing

Six Santa Clara County IT employees faced an impossible choice today. Report to a new temporary assignment on orders of County Executive Jeff Smith and forgo work on critical police data systems? Or report to their usual duty on orders of Sheriff Laurie Smith and risk losing their jobs?

They had until 9 this morning to decide.

Union reps, management and the anxiety-wracked employees who became pawns in this power-play spent the time leading up to the hour in closed-door meetings. Apparently, the deadline came and went with the IT staffers still at the sheriff’s HQ.

The dispute—the latest sign of ongoing tension between the county CEO and the sheriff over jail management—transpired this past week in a series of dueling memos.

Jeff Smith sent the first one on Feb. 20 to say he’s invoking executive power to temporarily transfer nine non-sworn positions—five employees, one extra-help and three vacancies—from the sheriff’s Department of Correction to the county’s Technology Services and Solutions Department. He called the move necessary to help implement a new but long-planned digital management system for the two jails.

Sheriff Smith followed up two days later with a directive contradicting the county exec’s. In it, she argued that losing those staffers would prevent her from fulfilling her constitutional obligation to protect the public. She called their work vital to supporting the California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System, which provides information on missing people and fugitives, among other things.

“As the appointing authority for all sheriff’s office personnel, I am instructing you not to leave your assigned posts or duties here at the sheriff’s office,” she wrote. “You are to continue with your continued daily operations and reporting structure here at the sheriff’s office so that law enforcement functions and public safety operations will not be disrupted, which would put our deputies, local peace officers and the public at risk.”

It appears that the impacted employees also urged their unions—SEIU Local 521 and CEMA—to intervene. In a letter dated today, they ask county officials to press pause on their reassignment until they clarifies the rationale for this change of course.

“As our job and careers are directly impacted with imminent insubordination either way, we would like to request an immediate meeting with the CEO, the sheriff, county counsel, CEMA, and SEIU, to understand and clarify the situation and what is expected from us,” they wrote in their plea, which was also forwarded to the Board of Supervisors.

In her memo sent Friday afternoon, Sheriff Smith echoed those concerns. “The county executive’s memo also does not provide evidence to support an exigency that such a move is necessary without prior notice or a chance to plan or meet and confer,” she stated.

Some hours later that evening, the county exec fired back.

He ordered the employees caught in the crosshairs to report at 9am today to county IT Director Dan Baldree at 990 N. First St. in San Jose, which happens to lie on the corner just opposite the sheriff’s hub at 55 West Younger Ave. (By the way, it’s unclear why the Feb. 22 email pictured above includes a Jan. 3 dateline over his email signature.)

Ignoring his command, he warned, could amount to insubordination.

CEO Smith said his memo to reassign staff came after a year of trying to get the sheriff to prioritize a vital jail software update. The county’s top bureaucrat said he resorted to issuing last week’s orders only because the sheriff refused to cooperate.

“It’s disappointing that the sheriff decided to intervene because she had no legal authority to do so,” Jeff Smith told San Jose Inside in a phone call this afternoon. “It’s pretty clear from the county charter that the executive has the authority to assign individuals to accomplish certain projects … and the sheriff has obstructed and delayed this project for more than a year now.”

Jeff Smith called it “pretty typical” of the six-term sheriff.

“She’s been obstructing the [jail management] system, she’s been publicly criticizing the DA for his charging decisions, she threatened to sue an external auditor and now she’s obstructing these reassignment conditions,” Jeff Smith said. “So she’s taking a really unreasonable, irresponsible approach to doing her job.”

He added: “I think she believes she runs the Independent Republic of Younger Avenue.”

Sheriff Smith has yet to respond to a request for comment.

Meanwhile, the IT folks already picked a side and it may cost them. A union member told SJI that it’s up to the Board of Supes or the court to decide which Smith is right.

As for Jeff Smith, he said he’ll talk with the people involved to clarify what comes next.

“With reassignments, there’s usually no need to do meetings with union reps,” he said. “But since the sheriff has decided to take this stance, that’s what we have to do.”

This article has been updated with comments from the county executive.

Jennifer Wadsworth is the news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Email tips to [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.

13 Comments

  1. Sounds like Jeff Smith is taking a tweet from Trump’s Twitter account and trying to build an IT wall that would lock the public out and keep Jeff’s cronies ” in”.

    Time to investigate Jeff Smith for Public Corruption. Jeff Smith reportedly makes his home in Contra Costa County, and commutes to Santa Clara where he oversees over $2 billion in annual spending. Rumors of taxpayer waste and unsettling relationships with the county’s district attorney and county counsel offices have plagued Jeff Smith for years. Steve Preminger, Jeff Smith’s ” right hand man” deserves a closer look too when it comes to the 2018 elections and Measure A funding.

    Looks like Sheriff Laurie Smith is going to need some more white collar crime investigators to keep up with all the bad guys.

    • Paraphrased from the movie “Billy Madison”

      Susan…, what you’ve just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone on this site is now dumber for having read it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

      • Robert Cortese: Thank you for confirmation of your association with the Silicon Valley culture that thinks attacks, discrediting and abuse of people who speak out is appropriate. Jeff Smith and Jeff Rosen count on people like you to conceal what they are up to in this county. Note: Jeff Smith did not try to raid the overpaid district attorney IT investigators. Those running the RATTF Unit are quite versed on using IT to spy on victims and known for searching personal property and cell phones without a warrant. Perhaps it is your ” knowledge” of the SJPD’s IT and ” 26 years ” in the IT business that gives you that Machiavellian- Harvey Weinstein tone in your comments. Being in the IT business doesn’t give you idiot immunity.

        • Those running the RATTF Unit are quite versed on using IT to spy on victims and known for searching personal property and cell phones without a warrant.

          When you are on county property they have the right to do so. They also have the right to ask that cell phones are turned off in cases concerning minors, which seems to be the cruft of your beef (It was a child custody case wasn’t it?)

          If cutting straight through your insane ramblings is abuse, then you can refer to me by my new nomenclature, The Marquis De Sade.

  2. Not sure how SCC Sheriff works, but I know SJPD IT only hires Officers with police training for their IT team. If SCC Sheriff has that same pre-requisite, then Jeff is going to break the SCC Sheriff policy on having deputies as their core IT team, with upstream support from the county.

    Have to side with Laurie on this one. Sounds like Jeff had some bad support and decided to pull resources where he can, but if the requirement for the Sheriff’s is only bonafide deputies can work on the network, file shares, etc with all the same records access requirements that other deputies have, then he cannot simply pull Lauries IT staff.

    Speaking as a IT person with 26 years experience in the business, and as a current government employee that had to train in some of these things.

    • SJPD IT staff are all civilian, except for one sergeant and one officer who’s job is to coordinate with administration. If you are not sure, please do not post.

    • If indeed SJPD uses only sworn officers in IT, that should prompt a grand jury investigation. It would be tragic waste of resources and exacerbate hiring difficulties. It’s understandable if officers are retrained in IT due to injuries that prevent active duty assignments, but not a prerequisite.

      The claim is also inconsistent with SJPD’s VOLT volunteer program. Volunteers undergo a background check. They often handle more sensitive data than any IT employee is likely to see. Note that SJPD Community Service employees handle sensitive information, but are not sworn officers.

  3. Sheriff Laurie Smith’s 9 IT positions (the subject of discussion) are not “sworn officer” positions.

    • Pardon me for not taking anonymous internet comments at face value but even if they weren’t sworn officer positions, they would in the least need something akin to derivative classification training for records handling. Not something every IT person off the street has.

      • ‘need something akin to derivative classification training’. Huh – supporting details?

        The nature and scope of IT staff duties were not detailed. Staff might be monitoring servers, handling break/fix, developing new applications, or other duties that are completely removed from direct access to sensitive data. Managing and protecting data doesn’t necessarily require direct knowledge of contents. Managing encrypted data is but one example.

  4. SJI should ask Sheriff Smith why she has not responded to the 5-0 vote at the Nov 20 BOS meeting to implement a gun and ammo turn-in process. It’s been over 90 days. She is supposed to have a process per published Superior Court instructions too, but at least attorney claims his client was prevented from doing so after ordered by the court to relinquish firearms and ammo.

    FWIW, County Counsel James Williams and CEO Jeff Smith were instructed to produce deliverables related to the turn-in, but have not responded.

  5. Wow, where do I start…Well, the whole Jeff Smith’s Charter directive is due to the incompetency of his Santa Clara County Public Safety and Justice subgroup of IT. Last year, they only completed 29% of their IT projects. Even Board President joe Simitian remarked on their subpar results during a public hearing. The County’s IT is out of compliance with California DOJ. In order to be in compliance, the Sheriff would have to background anyone that comes in contact with the system that hosts CJIS information. Hence, “Need to know and Right to Know” Refer to California DOJ website https://www.fbi.gov/services/cjis“. Jeff Smith is refusing to comply with the DOJ requirements and has delayed numerous projects through his so called Public Safety and Justice IT department. They control any and all $$ approved by the County to any of the four public safety departments, (District Attorney’s Office, Sheriff’s Office, Probation Department and Department of Correction). Everything mentioned in this post is available through CPRA requests. I am perplexed, as many of you are, why would anyone purposely delay projects. The only reasonable explanation can be, Jeff Smith’s Empire. Santa Clara County elected officials work for the people of Santa Clara County, NOT Jeff Smith. This concept doesn’t jive with Jeff Smith’s plans to start his own monarchy. He thrives on control, and the only way he can try to achieve control is to intimidate a group of hard working County employees. Shameful act of a coward. If he truly is concerned, he would’ve reached out to all of the unions affected and met and conferred with them prior to making that idiotic directive.

    Hold Jeff Smith Accountable.

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