A leadership shake-up last month at the San Diego County Deputy Sheriff’s Association could affect contract negotiations after the current one expires in July and sway political endorsements in the next election cycle.
David Leonhardi and Eric Garcia will remain on the board of directors but were replaced by Michael O’Deane and Timothy Richards as president and vice president, respectively.
Richards said it would be unfair to attribute the change to any single issue, but acknowledged that there’ve been internal complaints about the union endorsing some Democrats over Republicans.
“We were looking two-years out and wanted different visions and different goals,” he said.
Richards declined to talk about long-term strategy but said the change doesn’t necessarily mean a more adversarial relationship with county officials going forward. You don’t want to be best friends with the people across the table, he said, but labor negotiations are a balancing act.
Rather, the change was a reflection of internal discontent stemming from staff shortages and low morale, he said. “We’re supposed to be fighting for our members and that’s what we do.”
Leonhardi and O’Deane didn’t respond to requests for comment and Garcia declined an interview.
Though a right-leaning labor group, the Deputy Sheriff’s Association has thrown support behind liberals in key races to generate good-will. In 2018, union leaders dropped their endorsement of former Republican District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis and went instead with Democrat Nathan Fletcher for supervisor.
That decision followed a disagreement with county officials over changes in the employee pension system. The union never explained publicly why it dumped Dumanis, but the decision struck observers as practical rather than partisan.
Fletcher, who finished first in the 2018 primary, had expressed support for the labor group’s pay and benefit goals. He also had a relationship with the union going back years and went on to become chair of the entire Board of Supervisors.
The union backed Fletcher again in November 2022 for re-election as well as Republican Jim Desmond. Since then, there’s been turnover on the union’s board of directors.
Marlon McCurdy was recently replaced by Scott Crane, whose addition to the board shifted its political makeup and allowed O’Deane and Richards to take the top two seats at a special meeting on Jan. 27. The rank and file choose the directors and the directors choose their own officers. The union has more than 2,000 members.
Neither McCurdy nor Crane returned requests for comment.
The union’s response to vaccine requirements has been another source of contention. In late 2021, the department announced that deputies who hadn’t produced proof of Covid-19 vaccination or requested an exemption would still need to submit to weekly testing.
The testing requirement, the Union-Tribune reported, came out of negotiations with the union. Leonhardi portrayed it as a victory because other jurisdictions had stricter mandates, but some members didn’t see it that way.
An internal document obtained by La Prensa in 2021 showed that a majority of the deputies who responded to a survey opposed any candidate who was in favor of vaccine mandates. Other complaints about the department ranged from staff shortages and low morale to “wokeness” and “the liberal agenda of the San Diego county board of supervisors.”
Dave Myers, a retired commander and Democrat who twice ran for sheriff, said the survey embarrassed the union’s previous leadership and now gives a sense of where the new executive team is headed politically.
“I don’t know how this current leadership is going to survive long term, especially in an environment where they’re going through contract negotiations,” he said. “You do want your best friend sitting across the table.”
Similar grievances have reshaped police union politics in the city.
Jack Schaeffer, the president of the San Diego Police Officers Association, survived a recall attempt in September 2021. Though Schaeffer openly opposed San Diego’s vaccine requirement, some charged him with not being more combative. The union filed an injunction against the city in January 2022 to allow officers to record their meetings with officials about vaccine exemptions.
Schaeffer was replaced the same month by Jared Wilson. Wilson went on to partially blame vaccine policy for officers leaving the department.
About two months later, the union requested that the lawsuit be dismissed after city officials approved hundreds of personal exemptions for first responders.