10:00 PM PDT on Tuesday, October 19, 2010

By DUANE W. GANG
The Press-Enterprise

Riverside County supervisors signed off on a new contract Tuesday with the union presenting prosecutors, despite concerns by some board members that they may have been taken advantage of during labor talks.

Approved on a 4-1 vote, the new agreement with the Deputy District Attorneys Association and its 241 members is retroactive to July 1 and runs through June 30, 2011. It does not increase county costs.

The deal had been held up for weeks over a contract provision shifting two senior-level job classifications from discretionary to permanent posts, and the association’s directive encouraging members to cash in unused leave time.

Supervisors voted in closed session earlier this year to tentatively approve the contract. The association’s members ratified it in September.

Supervisors have said they were not aware of the association’s efforts to encourage members to cash in the leave time, and the county’s negotiator agreed to the provision on the job classifications without their initial consent.

“We have been gamed,” Supervisor John Benoit said Tuesday.

Still, the supervisors said that, because they gave their word during talks, they felt obligated to approve the deal Tuesday and not return to the negotiating table.

“We made a deal. And while it is not the best deal for us, our word is our word,” Supervisor John Tavaglione said.

Deputy District Attorney John Aki, the association’s vice president, said he is glad prosecutors have a new contract.

“We are happy for the supervisors’ support,” he said. “We are disappointed they believe we gamed them.”

Aki and Bryan Boutwell, a deputy district attorney who served on the association’s negotiating team, said the contract talks were done in good faith.

But Boutwell said because of the perception supervisors have, “we are looking forward to rebuilding that trust with the county.”

Under the new agreement, the deputy district attorney IV-S and IV-T positions become permanent.

The job classifications — and higher pay — are reserved for prosecutors who handle some of the county’s most complex crimes, including death-penalty cases. The public defender’s office and district attorneys offices in Orange and San Diego counties have similar positions.

But Benoit and Supervisor Bob Buster, the only supervisor to vote against the new contract, said they were concerned that making the positions permanent would hurt District Attorney-elect Paul Zellerbach’s ability to make his own personnel decisions.

Aki said Zellerbach will retain the flexibility to run the office.

Making the positions permanent acts as a pay-grade protection, he said. Before the new deal, when a person was transferred out of one of those posts, they lost the extra pay.

In addition, to reach one of the IV-S or IV-T positions, a deputy district attorney must go through a lengthy probationary period. Since it is based on handling a certain number of cases, the period can sometimes last years, Aki said.

Currently there are 50 budgeted IV-S and IV-T positions, with 38 filled. Of those, 20 are on probation and 18 are now permanent, county officials said.

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