Sheriff Kenneth Sealey works for the people, not the county Board of Commissioners, which probably emboldened him last week when he went public with his complaint that he doesn’t have enough staff to keep the Sheriff’s Office open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The county officials we spoke with weren’t pleased, saying the Sheriff’s Office has fared better than most departments during a difficult budget year, which is probably going to mean layoffs and a tax increase for fiscal year 2011-12, not the 2-cent tax decrease that was promised.
Sealey says the personnel issue arose when dispatchers were moved out of the Sheriff’s Office to the new communications center, and that promised replacements didn’t arrive. County officials point out that the jail staff remains at the Sheriff’s Office, and that with a little creativity a closed-for-the-day sign wouldn’t have to be hung at 5:15 p.m. each weekday and all day on the weekends.
It’s clear that Sealey is trying to generate public pressure on the commissioners to provide more positions. Weighing in his favor are the violent and property crime rates in this county, which rank among the worst in the state.
But working against Sealey is the reality that this county is broke. Positions are frozen, and capital projects will have to wait for a better day. More pain is around the corner.
We ask a poll question each week, although we acknowledge that it is unscientific. A poll’s results can easily be swayed by the way a question is asked, and now provides a fine opportunity for a demonstration.
The poll question is: Do you think the county Board of Commissioners should provide the Sheriff’s Office more personnel so that it can remain open 24 hours a day, seven days a week?
But we could have asked: Do you think the county Board of Commissioners should provide the Sheriff’s Office more personnel so that it can remain open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, even if it means that property taxes would have to be raised?
The results, we can assure you, would be dramatically different.
While the sheriff and the commissioners might disagree on this staffing issue, they should agree that the public can’t be put at risk unnecessarily. That might require a bit of give and take by Sealey as well as the county commissioners, but we are convinced keeping the Sheriff’s Office open for longer hours is achievable.
One thing is for certain: Sealey is only the first of many department heads who will be disappointed in the coming months as the next county budget takes shape. But other quarrels will be private, as those department heads are hired by the county, not elected by the people.