Our View: Paying the price
One of the first orders of business for commissoners-elect Tom Gray and Saed Tayyara should be establishing a functional working relationship with Sheriff Buddy Grinstead.
The existing relationship between Grinstead and the outgoing commissioners and Darryl Steele has been contentious — at least during the past year.
Grinstead is an elected official who can run his department however he sees fit. But the commissioners control his purse strings.
When they don’t agree on something such as jail staffing, it can mushroom into a problem for everyone, including taxpayers.
Grinstead has long complained of the lack of resources to keep the jail safe for inmates and employees.
There have been some incidents that tend to bear this out. One inmate’s jaw was broken by another, and the injured inmate has threatened to sue the county for his pain and suffering. And jail deputies recently had to use a Taser to subdue an unruly inmate.
But Grinstead seems content to let such incidents occur as proof that he needs more jailers, rather than doing everything in his power to prevent them. How many shifts has Grinstead worked at the jail? Perhaps commissioners should ask him. If he said he works there all the time — to the detriment of public safety in the county — maybe they would be more sympathetic about his staffing woes.
Commissioners bear a fair share of responsibility for the jail problems, as well. They’ve hammered jail administrators to accept as many inmates from other jurisdictions as possible to defray the costs of running the jail. But when the jail is at maximum occupancy, the jail staffing issues become more problematic. On Nov. 9, commissioners reversed course, saying the jail was taking on more inmates than it could handle safely.
“Until we can afford to put the dollars there, it is incumbent on you to manage at safe levels,” outgoing Commissioner Hampton told Grinstead Tuesday.
Talk about mixed messages. But Hampton and the other commissioners said they would support hiring additional staff for the jail if the money were available and the sheriff showed them data demonstrating a consistent upward trend in the population.
We were heartened to see both sides trying to find some common ground. Commissioners agreed to meet with judges and prosecutors to discuss ways to shorten the time inmates are held at the jail while awaiting trial.
But almost as quickly as the commissioners and the sheriff appeared to be making progress, the next week they tangled again about an $11,000 legal bill rung up by the sheriff’s department defending a traffic fine levied against a deputy.
The commissioners argued the sheriff should never have spent so much fighting such a small ticket. However, they stressed they had no control over how Grinstead allocates his budget.
If the sheriff is going to complain about a lack of funds to run the jail, he should be prudent about safeguarding what funds he has available. As it stands, taxpayers will bear about $7,000 of the sheriff’s decision to support the deputy who wanted to fight the ticket.
Hopefully, Gray and Tayyara can bring the commissioners’ relationship with the sheriff back to a level where taxpayers aren’t paying the price for their differences.
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