The Duncan Banner

September 22, 2013

Review remains of interest

Ed Darling
The Duncan Banner

DUNCAN — A letter to the editor, written by Pat Russell and published in last Friday’s edition of The Duncan Banner, expressed concerns related to the operation of the Stephens County Sheriff’s Department.

She was critical of efforts to increase budget revenues, the relationship with county commissioners and members of the county’s excise-equalization board, the need for additional Stephens County courthouse security, fencing in a courthouse parking lot, moving some prisoners from the jail to tents to alleviate overcrowding and the acquisition of a helicopter

Others have voiced similar concerns and with the Excise and Equalization Board nearing final review of the new budget, interest seems to be growing.

Is a proposed large increase in the sheriff’s budget justified when other departments — trying to pinch pennies and manage more efficiently — have submitted flat proposals with only slight adjustments? Doesn’t the sheriff’s department have access to thousands of non-budgeted, non-restricted and perhaps non-audited monies generated by the collection of fees, fines and drug forfeiture funds?

Do we need to install a permanent security system — equipment and personnel — at the courthouse, requiring electronic approval for each entry to the facility that was built in 1967 primarily to serve residents who need access to county offices for the commissioners, assessor, clerk, treasurer, election board, E-911, emergency management, drug court, excise and equalization board, district attorney, sheriff, judges and courtrooms?

Aren’t we still more a sleepy, rural small town than a haven for serious crime? Or is there something we need to know?

Is it necessary to fence in the parking lot on the west side of the courthouse, eliminating ground floor access, moving employees of other departments to off-site locations that would likely need to be purchased and restructuring long-term conveniences like voter registration and election activities?

Are we really considering construction of a secure tent facility on courthouse property to serve as an incarceration site for non-violent, less dangerous law offenders? Isn’t there a more practical solution, perhaps a method of substituting community service for jail time in our 160-inmate facility? Or is it a revenue producing stream we’re trying to protect?

Do we really need a helicopter? In a tight economy, is it a luxury or a necessity?

Why was its acquisition clouded in secrecy? Could not monies for pilots, training, fuel, housing, maintenance, upkeep and insurance be better utilized in other ways or by other departments? And won’t those ‘copter expenses climb as the unit ages?

The sheriff, by most accounts, is a competent law enforcement officer. He doesn’t have a good record as being a team player within the courthouse and he seems particularly anxious to expand his domain, but he was re-elected to a second term by those of us who live here. And happily, he seems to have recovered nicely from a serious heart attack.

Questioning his desire to maintain safety is not the issue.

Seeking justification of a plan that seems uncharted and extravagant is.

The county commissioners, by surprisingly passing along to the excise and equalization board the budget for a fiscal year that actually began July 1, seem to be endorsing his requests and embracing his plan.

That, of course, is their prerogative.

But the three-man excise and equalization board has the final review and the final say.

Pat Russell hopes the board is meticulous in that review, demanding in its standards and ethics, consistent in its application and protective of its mission as the watchdog of Stephens County government.

So do others.

edarling@duncanbanner.com

(580) 255-5354, Ext. 130