Deputies seeking sheriffs’ union split

February 10, 2009


Members of the county’s largest and most influential union have mounted an aggressive campaign to divide the Deputies Sheriff’s Association (DSA) into two separate unions.

If the action is successful, one union would be comprised of sworn peace officers, the other of non-sworn sheriff personnel.

A break would damage the effectiveness of the association, said DSA President Dale Strobridge. “The most effective way to represent the community is to have a blended agency. We are the most politically effective county organization.”

Strobridge was elected to his second two-year term as president December 30 by approximately 60 percent of the membership. A few days later, a group of sheriff deputies headed by Det. Patrick Zuchelli, runner up in the DSA election, began circulating a petition to break away from the mixed unit. The group has dubbed itself the Association of San Luis Obispo County Deputy Sheriffs (ASLOCDS). Zuchelli was appointed its first president.

Zuchelli asserts the attempted split is not directed at discontent over a single individual, but an attempt to provide peace officers their own union. Zuchelli declined to comment further and said the issue was “private.”

Several proponents of the split, however, have voiced discontent over the election of Strobridge and a handful of issues they say have fueled the proposed sheriff deputy union schism.

Proponents of the split claim Strobridge has provided DSA legal counsel to comrads, while turning away political opponents. Though all members of the union are entitled to legal representation regarding allegations of misconduct, legal assistance regarding workplace grievances is subject to Strobridge’s approval.

“All those who have requested legal defense for grievances have received defense,” Strobridge said. “No one has been denied.”

Deepening the rift is discontent over DSA director Tony Perry’s knowledge of the bugging of Chief Deputy Gary Hoving’s office. Perry sat in during discussions with Sheriff Pat Hedges, Bolts, and Sgt. Jay Donovan over the proposed illegal eavesdropping at a coffee shop on Monterey Street in August of 2006. Several proponents of the split assert the alliance has corrupted the integrity of the union.

“It doesn’t have anything to do with the breakup,” said Undersheriff Steve Bolts. “They are not critical of administration, they are critical of DSA leadership.”

According to DSA officials, Donovan filed a grievance alleging unfair and retaliatory workplace treatment against Hoving, not a narcotics detective. At the time, Perry was an executive director of the union under former DSA President Darren Murphy.

“You have Tony Perry advocating for an employee that submitted a grievance,” Strobridge said. “We are obligated under the duty of fair representation to represent interests of aggrieved employees. After the coffee shop meeting, Perry was informed by sheriff administrators that the tape recording would take place and that the sheriff was investigating allegations of criminal conduct. As long as the recording is part of a criminal investigation, it is lawful.”

The DSA is the county’s largest law enforcement association representing 270 deputy sheriffs, dispatchers, crime prevention personnel, correctional officers, and evidence and property technicians within the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Department. DSA members elect five executive officers and 19 directors every two years. Each division throughout the county is represented by a director.

Last month, ACLOCDS officials submitted a petition signed by 96 of 149 sheriff deputies to county administration. According to California code, peace offices can break into their own union. First, at least 40 percent must sign a petition. Then county administrators must approve the application. If approved, a majority vote of members is required in order to create a new union.

In 2000, an attempted split failed to garner enough votes, though more than a majority had signed the petition.

“Just because they sign a petition, doesn’t mean they will vote for it,” said Alison Berry Wilkinson, a San Rafael attorney representing DSA and more than 100 other union organizations throughout the state. “They cast a secret ballot. The petitions are signed in public.”

Last week, Wilkinson sent a letter to county administration challenging the ASLOCDS petition and asserting that it is fatally flawed. The petition requests that deputy sheriffs, senior deputy sheriffs, and sergeants have representation in the proposed union. However, county article II section 6(F)prohibits supervisory and non-supervisory county personnel from belonging to the same unit.

“Certain flaws are uncorrectable,” Wilkinson added. “I think they have to start over.”

If county administration determines the petition is fatally flawed, ACLOCDS will have to wait a year for their next window in which to file for separation.

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Member Opinions:

By: bikersavant on 2/19/09

What Dale lacks in in tact and grace he makes up for with brutality. I wouldn't follow him anywhere.

By: karen on 2/13/09

I will be on the Dave Congalton Show tonight at 5:05 p.m. to discuss this issue, turn your radio to 920AM or listen live at

By: mrehand on 2/12/09

Right on cranium, we all don't see eye to eye often when dealing with money and politics, but showing weakness is as dangerous to do on the streets in front of opportunistic politicians and their anti-union allies as it is inside a prison. The members must put aside their differences and stop the public infighting from escalating any further. I suggest a cooling off period and then some high level talks to get back on the same page and move forward for the good of the members during these dark times. Breaking up the Union is a mistake, and will only weaken our position for a long, long time.

By: Saveslocounty on 2/12/09

To Ontheknow. I stand corrected and apologize for the numeric error. Others have noted the strength in numbers which is absolutely true, provided that all members are united. Sadly, they are demonstrating a lack of cohesiveness which is often a sign of poor leadership. The membership should have worked harder to resolve the issues before coming to the decision to split, but, that didn't happen. There have been a number of media references to Strowbridge running for Sheriff and using the DSA to promote that. If this is the best he can do as the DSA president, how could he even begin to run the entire department. This would likely have been an unpublished blip had it not been for the entire last year filled with articles about the antics of the elected Sheriff and his boys. You don't have to be from within the Sheriffs to know that something is seriously wrong. I respect the deputies and custody staff and wish them the best. Now, the ball is in their court to abandon the split or go forth and operate under two seperate unions. Either way, it is incumbant that they all demonstrate a new level of professionalism to restore the public trust that has been so badly damaged. God Speed to all of you.

By: RichardCranium on 2/12/09

Also, on the issue of Political Action Campaign money being used to "buy politicians," a member can opt out of the PAC contributions if he/she doesn't support them. Again, this stuff should be handled internally. You guys are changing the public's opinion of you in a negative way…

By: RichardCranium on 2/12/09

In labor groups the only true strength is in the numbers. Division of those numbers weakens the group and so does airing the group's "dirty laundry" in public. It's a shame that article ran. Good luck boys and girls…

By: InTheKnow on 2/12/09

To SaveSLOCounty

The article says the election was on Dec. 30. It then says Strobridge won by around 60 percent. Only two people ran for the DSA president.

By: Saveslocounty on 2/12/09

Benji. I don't work for the Sheriff's Department and have nothing to do with them. However, I have read so much about the issues out there that have cost me, the taxpayer a fortune. As a former union swewart, I appreciate the role in the labor movement. However, it will never be OK with me to violate one mans rights to protect another employee nor to forget my role in serving all that elected me. Check out the article above, 30% elected him into office. That IS a clue that he doesn't even have the support of the majority he supposedly represents. I moved here to get away from the political garbage in the big city yet it is a persistant problem in SLO, and that is a concern. Sorry you are so quick to criticize my right to free speech but sure have demonstrated no refrain from exerting yours. Maybe Stowbridge will promote you for being one of his good old boys. At least there is a journalist in SLO County that will actually do some investigative reporting. Good job on uncovering more problems that need to get fixed. Oh, Benjis "or what" comment; this county will follow Orange County into bankruptcy through lawsuits and the reputation of having a corrupt Sheriff that will not, and should not, receive the support or funding from the Board of Supervisors to protect us. That means we pay for yet again.

By: mrehand on 2/12/09

Gentlemen, please hold your fire! The biggest threat to all county employees is the effort to play off the private sectors losses and envy in an effort to undermine and overturn the prevailing wage ordinance. The Admin would love to have a fractured and less politically effective group to fight in that campaign! Now is the time to mend fences, circle the wagons and recognize that united we stand-divided we fall. If we think we have problems now, imagine what it will be like when we are staffed and compensated after our compairsons are siskyou, butte, tulare, and other counties that are light years behind us cost of living, benefits and service levels. Lets not let them play us against ourselves, we need all hands to protect our families futures and our members safety!

By: Paso_Guy on 2/12/09

Yeah, Benjamin. We are all mem among men as we stand tall, mocking eachother with our special names to hide behind. Who are you kidding?

By: Benjamin on 2/12/09

Saveslocounty and LawDog you both seem pretty spineless. If this makes you so angry why dont you get on KSBY and voice your opinion so everyone can see your face? Seems to me you guys like to yell insults from the shadows but are to gutless to do it in person. Pretty typical from people of your stature

By: Benjamin on 2/12/09

Saveslocounty the public better wake up or what? Maybe if we dont wake up you and your henchman will start bashing us out in public. You are a joke.It sounds to me like you have a bit of a personal vendetta against Strobridge and Perry. You and your little followers should wake up. Bashing and misrepresenting someone for your own personal benefit sure shows your moral character. Quit with your temper tantrum and grow up.

By: Saveslocounty on 2/12/09

You can't be serious, that POS Strobridge was only elected by 30%. That's a clue that that apathy is devastating within the organization. And let's beat up on Zuchini for having the guts to stand up to the "Political Machine" created by Strobridge and his puppet Tony Perry. It looks like the only sore losers are Strobridge and Perry because they lost support of all of the actual peace officers in the union. Perhaps had they represented the Deputy Sheriffs rather than wiretaping offices, wasting money defending the misdeeds of their own children, and trying to buy politicians, they would have remained one big happy well paid family. Strobridge and Perry are individually responsible for this mess but are too busy spinning the facts to own up to it. Perhaps Strobridge should run for governor of Illinois rather than for Sheriff as he is intending. The corruption within the Sheriff's Department must stop and the public had better wake up. Congratulations to the Deputy Sheriff's for finally taking action to clean up the mess. Great job Zuchellini and your interim board and then try to get rid us of the worthless, spineless, wife abusing Sheriff so we can all feel safer.

By: calvertworthington on 2/12/09

I've nothing to do with the SLO County Sheriff's dept., but do participate in "UncoveredSlo's" forum.

My limited understanding of municipal and county governments includes knowledge that there are ample internal avenues in-place for resolution of personnel/union policy issues, and/or allegations of malfesasance.

In this instance, it's apparent the Mr. Zuchelli has chosen to throw his allegations into the media 'wind' to see where they fall. As mentioned by another commenter, this appears to be related more to possible affecting local politics, rather than to resolve a policy violation.

As a county resident and tax payer, Mr. Zucheli's actions do nothing to improve my respect for the Sheriff's dept.

By: Benjamin on 2/12/09

LawDog Dale Strobridge is an honest and fair individual.Your personal attack of Mr.Strobridge calling him a cheat and a liar disgusts me. LawDog dry your eyes and stop your self absorbed whining. Zuchelli sounds like a soar loser. Zuchelli you were voted down get over it and stop embarrasing yourself with your backstabbing and misguided agendas.

By: FORtheSILENTones on 2/12/09

"A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on."

– Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

The way law dog conducts business is poor and its sounds to me like its time for him to dry his eyes and move on.

By: Abraham on 2/12/09

So Zuchelli says that the split has nothing to do with a single individual and then he ends by saying the issue is "personal." That doesn't make sense. Sounds like he's a sore loser. LawDog just sounds like he has an agenda all his own. His accusations are nothing but slander. But he knows that. He is just spreading lies and starting rumors. On whose behalf is he doing this for? Not the union. Perhaps another candidate for sheriff? All the split is doing is weakening a strong union. Individuals like LawDog and Zuchelli are the ones who hurt the union – not strong leaders like Strobridge.

By: LawDog on 2/11/09

I've been a member of the DSA for many years. The reason for the split is not due to the election. It was in the works long before that. The reason is we sworn members are tired of the political activisium of the DSA. Using our dues money at failed attempts to buy politicions is embarrassing.

Further, Dale Strobridge is a liar and a cheat. He has used the DSA to his own personal advantage and does not listen to the membership. He will say and do anything to stay in power and many of us suspect he intends on running for Sheriff and will throw us all under the bus to accomplish his goals. As dishonest as he is however, he is a skilled and ruthless politition. An honest man does not stand a chance against him. Throughout the discussions about splitting the union, he has tried to pit the sworn members against the non-sworn members.

Many of us are willing to defer our recent pay raise and even work days without pay to protect the jobs of less senior deputies. He will not bring these items to the county because he has other intentions.

In short, the split is due to the honest and hard working deputies who serve you wanting a union that truly represents their values and attitudes. We want a union that will earn your trust and respect. NOT a huge political machine that rules through intimidation and fear.

By: RichardCranium on 2/11/09

BOO HOO…What a sore loser! Strobridge is elected fair and square and the runner-up refuses to concede and admits its "personal."

Thank god we don't have this problem with REAL elections. Democracy only works when the losing side concedes (until next time).

Sounds like some of the DSA are spoiled brats!

By: broola on 2/11/09

Can you tell us why the FBI was asking questions late today to employee's of GIUSEPPE'S restaurant in SLO. My roomate says Sheriff's Hedges was there and later some employee's had to speak to the FBI ? owner Joe was their and was not happy do you know why ?

By: BWareBPOA on 2/11/09

Obviously the rift of a few is creating a hasty decision that will affect the masses. It appears the split will cripple “the most politically effective county organization” while certain proponents hide behind the anonymity. Set your differences aside and quit the playground ploy and rhetoric. Time to “Cowboy up and land the plane” and bring it to front street.

By: NorthCountyGuy on 2/11/09

There seems to be a serious paucity of truth in labeling in SLO County. The self-servers in charge of the Government Employee Unions County should call it New and Improved Methods for Fleecing the Taxpayers.

By: Panicmanic on 2/11/09

"We are the most politically effective county organization."

You do say? It's a beautiful thing when Politics come before Job Performance.