Sometimes I take too long to get to my point in these columns so I’m going to bullet point the main topics.
County administration is recommending a drastically reduced version of the Sheriff’s budget.
This does not represent what the majority of the county commission has indicated they intend to support. More importantly, the commissioners are not to blame for this.
Ultimately the county commission is presented with an opportunity to reject the administrator’s recommendation, something that they should do to reflect the desire of the public and reverse a historical power imbalance.
Once again, the county commission should not be the place to send angry letters regarding the Sheriff’s budget. Rather, the commissioners should be encouraged to reject the administrator’s recommendations.
On Thursday, I pushed a narrative that any perceived conflict regarding Tuesday’s upcoming budget discussion would be a creation of the media rather than a reality of the situation. That’s not entirely true. Conflict exists. The source is not the commission, though, but rather the county administrator.
On the top of the 10th page of a 698 page budget document is the following statement, “We are recommending that 50% of the increase in compensation be implemented this year with a decision made on the balance next year [...] We strongly recommend that salary increases in the Sheriff’s Office for non-sworn positions be no greater than those given to County employees as it would be patently unfair to the employees working under the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC).”
Let’s break this down into two parts: 1. Give sworn deputies 50% of what the Sheriff is asking for and 2. Give non-sworn positions even less.
With that in mind, one more distinction needs to be made: this is the recommendation of the administration, not what the county commission has indicated they want. Recognizing this difference is of the utmost importance.
Time for three more bullet points about the situation.
Three commissioners, Ruthie Schlabach, Holly Davis and Jeff Kinnard, have been supportive of full salary increases, even if some concerns about the overall budget still exist. They have each individually met with the Sheriff to discuss this. To Commissioner Schlabach’s credit, she was first.
Chairman Ron Kitchen and Commissioner Scott Carnahan have been opposed to the Sheriff’s budget request, have not accepted an invitation to meet with him and have instead pushed claims that his budget is non-transparent. These two commissioners were most vocal about returning Fire and EMS services to the county, which has ballooned the upcoming budget with a 17.2% increase compared to CCSO’s 4.8% increase, but these two commissioners have dodged answering for this massive increase by trying to keep to focus on the Sheriff. A starting county paramedic is now budgeted to make roughly $20,000 more than a starting deputy.
The memo’s language reflects the views of Chairman Kitchen, not what a majority of the board has asked for.
Commissioners Schlabach and Davis have often raised concerns that the administrator and the chairman push their own agenda regardless of the board’s direction. To Commissioner Davis’ credit, she twice tried to stop this.
Once was by raising the idea that Commissioner Kinnard be nominated for the chairmanship rather than Kitchen and once in suggesting ways to expedite replacing the county administrator after he submitted his intent to resign effective later this year. Neither were successful but her concern was because of foresight into situations exactly like the one we’re seeing here - the chairman and the administrator once again circumventing the will of the entire board.
Commissioner Kinnard was never in support of disrupting the status quo of the administration or chairmanship, but he has been the most outspoken member of the board in support of the Sheriff’s budget from the beginning. While Commissioners Schlabach and Davis offered tentative support with questions, Commissioner Kinnard declared full support with some minor suggestions in the previous budget meeting.
Despite this willingness to be the most vocal supporter, Dr. Kinnard will have to do something that he has previously been reluctant to do which his newer colleagues have excelled in - he will have to get firm with Chairman Kitchen and the county administrator.
Though Tuesday’s outcome remains unclear, one thing is for certain: the majority of the commission is the solution to providing better treatment of our law enforcement; not a roadblock to it. That obstruction lies solely on the county administrator and a minority of the commission attempting to push their personal agendas to hide the cost increases of their own public safety decisions.