Citizens for Better Government

 

Blount County Tennessee

 

What We Expect of Our Blount County Sheriff’s Department

 

Mr. Ron Dunn, the Chief Deputy of the Blount County Sheriff’s department recently wrote a letter to the editor of The Daily Times, complaining that the “bare bones” budget passed by the county Commission leaves the Sheriff unable to pay the deputies a competitive salary. We are sympathetic to the plight of the Deputies but feel there is more to the story. Our reply to Mr. Dunn is shown below.

 

To the Editor:

In his recent letter, Chief Deputy, Ron Dunn asked: “what do you expect of your Sheriff’s Office”.

 

First, we expect the Sheriff’s Office to be well managed. Good management means paying a competitive wage. It means maintaining a work environment that respects employees, promotes from within, and is free from fear of reprisals and sexual harassment. Good management means making tough budget choices. Does a good management really need a fleet of 269 vehicles to support 256 budgeted employees (including secretaries, jail attendants, part time help, cafeteria help, etc)?  Washington County has nearly the same population, makes more arrests, and has a larger jail, yet does the job with 125 vehicles. The difference in the cost of purchasing, insuring, fueling and maintaining these two fleets would go a long way toward providing a decent raise for our deputies. Does a good management really put a $250,000 driving track ahead of employee raises? (Yes, I know drug funds financed this, but the money could have been legally used for other items that would have released funds for raises in the next budget.) Do we really need the expense of a Chief Deputy and four Assistant Chief Deputies, when other Counties our size, get along without any Assistant Chiefs? Do we really need a public relations department to write press releases extolling the Sheriff’s activities, when crime reporters do the same thing, at no cost to the taxpayers?

 

Second, we expect the Sheriff to give us the best possible law enforcement services that we can afford. Yes, in the real world, good managements must consider affordability. The Mayor and County Commission cannot rubber-stamp every request for money. When they say ‘yes’ to the Sheriff, they must say ‘no’ to other important needs, or raise taxes. We saw a poignant example of this at a Financial Management Committee meeting, where the Commissioners were told that the Sheriff had purchased a $17,350 phone, despite their reservations. Later, the Commissioners had to say ‘no’ to a request for $15,000 to feed 25 needy seniors for a year, because they did not have the money. When they say ‘yes’ to $860,000 for new Sheriff’s vehicles, they may have to say to ‘no’ to books for the schools. An alternative would be to raise taxes, but double-digit tax increases have put some of our residents in danger of losing their homes.

 

Third, we expect the Sheriff to run his department as efficiently as other departments in similar sized counties. Citizens for Better Government compared our Blount County Sheriff’s department with those in other Tennessee counties. According to data from state fiscal 05 county audit reports, and the state Crime in Tennessee report (the latest year for which complete State statistics are available), the Blount County Sheriff spent $2579 per arrest, while Washington County spent $1378 and Montgomery County spent $1641.

 

Fourth, we expect openness from the Sheriff. Is openness served when the Sheriff claims his budget was cut and, in fact, it increased? Is openness served when the Sheriff comes to the Commission seeking approval for a $250,000 budget increase for driving track materials and, in fact, the purchase orders for these materials had been issued long ago? Is openness served when the Commission fully funds School Resource Officers and the Sheriff spends the money on other activities, without the Commission’s approval?

 

It is disappointing that Mr. Dunn chose to personally attack Ms. King and myself.  He offers no support for his allegation that we are: “continuously distributing erroneous information”. He has never called Citizens for Better Government to correct any “error” in our information. He goes on to say we “relocated” here. Yes, some of us were not fortunate enough to be born here. Does that restrict our right to seek good government? (Some Citizens for Better Government members were paying taxes here, before Mr. Dunn was born).  He says I have not: “been the victim of a home invasion”. Without misusing his investigative authority, how is he able to make that statement?

 

The Sheriff and Mr. Dunn would be wise to skip the personal attacks, and spend more time improving the management of their $16.7 million budget, to better serve the community and provide for their employees.

 

1/24/07

 

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