ASK THE SHERIFF: Merit Board oversees personnel issues

Brad Rogers

DEAR SHERIFF: What is the Sheriff’s Merit Board? What is its responsibility and how does the board affect the public, the sheriff, the sheriff’s department, or any of the sheriff’s deputies?

ANSWER: The Indiana Sheriff’s Merit Board is a decades old system, defined by state law that removed any possibility that a Sheriff could replace police officers on the department due to their political affiliation or without just cause. Any full-time deputy sheriff/police officer is a merit officer under this law, and thus a member of the merit system.

The Merit Board consists of five members. Three members shall be appointed by the sheriff, and two members shall be elected by a majority vote of the members of the merit officers under procedures established by the sheriff’s merit board. No active merit officer may serve on the board.

Member appointments are four-year terms. Not more than two of the members appointed by the sheriff, nor more than one of the members elected by the officers may belong to the same political party. All members must reside in the county.

The board shall hold regular monthly meetings throughout the year as is necessary to transact the business of the merit board. Since I’ve been sheriff, these meetings typically occur on the second Thursday of the month at 5:30 p.m. in the sheriff’s law enforcement building training room next to the county corrections facility in Elkhart. These meetings are open to the public.

The Merit Board does not have any general day-to-day authority or responsibility over the sheriff’s office or the department. However, the Merit Board does have jurisdiction over: Final approval of hiring, firing, demotion or serious disciplinary action (any suspension without pay over 15 days) of any merit officer unless on probation (within their first year). In cases of firing, demotion and serious discipline of a non-probationary merit officer, a fair public hearing can be conducted at the request of a merit officer or the sheriff. This is a rare event. No hearings have been held since I’ve been sheriff. The Merit Board’s decision is appealable in the circuit court of the county.

The Merit Board also oversees the pension and disability plans for all the merit officers.

Correction officers, or limited deputies, and other civilian employees (such as mechanics and clerical personnel) are not considered merit officers under this law. The Merit Board has no jurisdiction over hiring, firing, demotions or discipline of any of these sheriff’s employees. Still, due to the cost of training, it’s always a good business decision to have just cause before terminating any employee.

In summary, the merit system holds the sheriff accountable for keeping standards high in hiring and provides for fair and equitable treatment for the sheriff’s police officers ensuring that an officer will not be disciplined, demoted or fired except for just cause and with Merit Board approval. Regardless of whom the sheriff is at any given time, this system of accountability, transparency and fairness provides and keeps integrity on serious personnel issues in the sheriff’s office.

Ask the sheriff a question by emailing Elkhart County Sheriff Brad Rogers at brogers@elkhartcountysheriff.com

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