The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Opinion

August 3, 2012

Guest columnist, Paul Ayres: Election-year animosity taking its toll

JOPLIN, Mo. — I am an employee of the Jasper County sheriff’s office. I was hired in 2006 as a result of the law enforcement sales tax that was approved by the public in 2005.

The intent of this column is not to condone or condemn Archie Dunn’s bid for re-election, but to try to convey to the public how much the animosity between the sheriff and his detractors affects the staff of the department, and most importantly, the citizens as a whole.

The ongoing disputes between the sheriff, the county commissioners, the county auditor and the county attorney have created stress for our staff and employees, just as I’m sure it has on all parties concerned. We must continue to perform our job duties as efficiently as possible, while hearing and reading about the ongoing problems and wondering if we will have a job tomorrow, next month or next year. The origin of the bickering is irrelevant to us; we just want to do our jobs and support our families.

The very nature of our work demands we are alert and focused on details. If we lose sight of this, someone gets hurt. Our jail staff deals with inmates (in the neighborhood of 180 of them at any one time) who are not there because they are nice people, but because they have committed some kind of criminal offense, some very serious.

This demands these officers stay 100 percent focused on their work, and not be distracted by discord within our county government.

Our patrol officers face an even bigger task: They are forced to deal with the worst people our society has to offer on their own turf. Every time they begin their shift, they have to be prepared for any kind of problem or emergency that may arise, no matter the level of danger. They don’t have the luxury of worrying about how the latest feud is progressing.

Our civilian support staff does an outstanding job of taking care of the details of the daily operations. Without them, none of us could do our work with any degree of efficiency. They, too, shouldn’t be distracted by constant upheaval and strife. Each sheriff’s office employee is an important link not only in our interdepartmental functions, but in the service we provide to the public in general.

Richard Webster, an elected county auditor, has recently forced the sheriff’s office to conduct operations on a monthly budget, rather than on a yearly budget as submitted by the sheriff and approved by the commissioners.

Understand, it’s not that the sheriff’s office doesn’t have the money to do business, it’s the fact we are not allowed to have (by the auditor and the commissioners) the money to conduct business in the unique way law enforcement is required to work.

Ours is a business of uncertainty. We cannot predict how jail costs will fluctuate, how high fuel will go or how many major crimes or natural disasters will push our resources to the limit. We simply cannot be forced to work on a sent monthly “allowance” and expect to provide the best possible service to the public. To my knowledge, we are the only part of Jasper County government that is forced to operate this way — on a monthly stipend.

Also, I believe we are currently months behind in paying a number of bills, and at least one vendor that is necessary to the daily operation of our vehicle fleet has frozen our account and refused us further credit until our debt is paid. Bear in mind, the sheriff’s office does not pay vendors or other expenses directly. We submit expenses and bills to the auditor, who in turn approves them and makes the final payment. The sheriff does not like to conduct business this way (with a monthly budget), but currently is forced to do so by the auditor. This, in turn, affects the qualify of service we are able to provide to the public. This is not good business, and is shameful and shouldn’t be tolerated by our citizens.

I did not work for the sheriff’s office before Archie Dunn became sheriff. I only know what I have heard from longtime employees about the differences in the way business is conducted. Whatever Archie Dunn’s fate, getting the law enforcement sales tax approved by the citizens will be his crowning achievement. He labored for its support and got it on the ballot, without support from the County Commission. The commission refused to pay to put the LEST measure on the ballot. Dunn raised in excess of $50,000 from private donors to pay for it to be put before the voters. Remember?

Let me be perfectly frank: I don’t agree with every decision made by Archie Dunn. He has made some bad decisions, to be sure, and the first one to tell you this will be Archie himself. When a blunder is made, we pick up the pieces, move forward and do business. Plain and simple. We owe it to the public.

I challenge our elected officials to stop the election-year muckraking, stop the bickering and personal animosity, and stop dragging sheriff’s employees and the public good into your dislike of each other. If it’s personal, keep it that way. If you don’t like the job Archie’s doing, vote against him. Don’t use your office as a mechanism to defeat Dunn. If he is defeated at the polls, let it be the unvarnished will of the voters.

May the best man win.

Paul Ayres is a detective with the Jasper County sheriff’s office.

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