Candidates focus on budget

By Jessica Cejnar, The Triplicate May 19, 2014 01:56 pm

The two challengers in the Del Norte County Sheriff race again promised better response to outlying communities, but much of the discussion at the latest candidate forum on Tuesday focused on the sheriff’s limited budget.

The candidates also fielded questions about AB 109 prison realignment, California’s effort to reduce the prison population by putting low-level offenders in county jails and probation departments.

Challengers Jim Maready and Elwood “Butch” Lee faced off against incumbent Dean Wilson for a third time at a candidate forum hosted by the Del Norte Tea Party Patriots on Tuesday. Crescent City Police Sgt. Erik Apperson was scheduled to work that evening.

Meanwhile, the full lineup of candidates, including Apperson, appeared at a May 9 forum in Eureka hosted by the Humboldt County League of  Women Voters and broadcast on KEET-TV. In addition to discussing the budget, topics at the forum ranged from gun control to stalking and steps the potential sheriff would take to make his constituents feel safer.

Wilson, Maready, Lee and Apperson will appear on the June 3 primary ballot. Unless one candidate captures 51 percent of the vote, the contest will have a runoff in November.

At the KEET-TV forum, Apperson, who has been with the Crescent City Police Department since 2001, said even though his experience with budgets is on a smaller level than at least two of his fellow candidates, he knows that as sheriff coming in under budget and finding ways to generate revenue is important. 

As a police sergeant, Apperson said he is responsible for the schedules of the other officers in the department. He said the Sheriff’s Office needs to be creative in how it handles the influx of inmates due to prison realignment.

“We have to think less about putting them away in prisons and more about rehabilitation,” Apperson said. “I think it’s impacted us in the sense where we realized we don’t have enough staffing. We need to be more creatively geared toward preventing recidivism.”

At both forums, Maready, who was sheriff from 1995 to 2002, drew on his previous experience when discussing the office’s limited budget. As sheriff, Maready said he oversaw a $4.7 million budget and 68 employees. He also emphasized his experience as a member of the Del Norte County School District Board of Trustees, which oversees a $35 million budget. 

Maready also chaired a citizens oversight committee that monitors how the school district spends a $25 million voter-approved bond.

At Tuesday’s forum, Maready said if he was elected sheriff he’d ask the Commission on Police Officer Standards and Training to do an audit of the department. He said he would also ask the California Department of Corrections to audit the county jail.

As for AB 109, Maready said there are between 75 and 90 inmates in the jail with six to eight of them there due to the realignment program. The jail has 150 beds.

“With these new inmates we need to have training done possibly by Pelican Bay because these will be a different type of prisoner,” he said. “It’s important we use their professional expertise and train our correctional officers.”

Wilson, who took over the Sheriff’s Office when Maready retired at the end of 2002, blamed his predecessor for mismanagement that resulted in a loss of about $500,000 in grant funding. He also referred to a loss of another $500,000 in grant money that is allocated to sheriffs in rural counties due to “politics in Sacramento.”

According to Wilson, the $500,000 rural sheriffs grant paid for eight employees. He said he became involved in politics as sheriff and successfully got that funding reinstated.

During his tenure as sheriff, Wilson said one of his first decisions was to hire someone who oversaw the department’s finances. The sheriff’s office also went through a reorganization, but when it was done everyone had a job, he said.

Wilson said the department faces future challenges due to increases in retirement costs through the Public Employees Retirement System.

“Just the employee cost alone went up $526,000,” he said on Tuesday. “Every dollar we have goes to personnel. That is our primary responsibility. The other is to take care of our jail so we have the capacity the community needs.”

Lee, who spent his law enforcement career in Santa Ana, Rogue River, Ore., and Skagway, Alaska, said he oversaw the implementation of several grants when he was in Oregon. An integral part of the sheriff’s job is going after additional funding, he said, but being able to work within the budget is more important.

On Tuesday, one of Lee’s proposed solutions to the challenges of AB 109 was to institute a supervised prisoner work crew program.

“Those folks were out doing community service for people,” he said. “They were low-level DUI weekenders. I don’t see why that couldn’t be brought back. That would also keep them from having to be housed. You could set it up where they come in at 8 o’clock in the morning, go to a work crew and you adjust their good time, work time, that kind of stuff, to coincide with their sentencing.”

To view the entire KEET-TV forum, visit https://archive.org/details/KEETLWVFORUMS20140509

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