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Deputy Disputes Firing By St. Louis City Sheriff's Office

July 27, 2011
St. Louis deputy Vernon Betts is out of a job. His former boss, Sheriff James Murphy, fired him effective July 20 because of Betts' refusal to end his political campaign for election to Murphy's position.

The sheriff's office does not allow its employees to engage in political campaigns: "Deputies shall not file for, campaign for, or hold any elective office while an employee of the sheriff of the City of St. Louis."

Betts, a deputy for three years and retired employee from AmerenUE, said he informed Murphy in June 2009 that he would be running for Murphy's position. The procedural order banning sheriff's employees from seeking public office took effect on Nov. 1, 2010.

Betts, who has been critical of the way the Sheriff's office has been managed, is convinced that he was fired because he was seeking Murphy's job.

Mike Guzy, second in command at the Sheriff's office, denies that charge. He said the sheriff's order was written on the heels of a similar court order that forbids court employees from seeking elective office.

"We don't want employees to be involved in partisan politics when they're at work. They are suppose to be neutral, just as the courts are suppose to be neutral," Guzy said. He said there is nothing unusual about Murphy's order. Police department employees, for example, must abide by the same restrictions, he said.

The Sheriff's office is responsible for the safety and security of 31 divisional courtrooms and the transportation of prisoners between the courts and detention facilities.

In November 2010, Betts received a letter asking him to end his campaign or resign as deputy. It read: "If you wish to pursue a career in politics you must resign your position as deputy sheriff before doing so."

Betts was given until July 12 to comply. He did not, and on July 12 he received written notice from Murphy of his termination effective July 20.

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