Wall fights pay cuts

County refuses to foot sheriff's bill

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Routt County Sheriff Gary Wall

County to discuss furlough plan

Routt County officials are scheduled this week to discuss a furlough plan for most county employees. At 4 p.m. Tuesday in the Routt County Courthouse, County Manager Tom Sullivan is slated to present county commissioners with documents from each county department, detailing how employees could achieve a 10 percent reduction in hours worked, given the 10 percent pay cut implemented by commissioners April 1. Most department managers suggest either four, nine-hour shifts per week, or employees taking alternate Fridays off in an effort to maintain service levels.

Routt County Clerk and Recorder Kay Weinland suggested opening courthouse and courthouse annex offices, including the motor vehicle office, from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday.

Sgt. Miles De Young of the Routt County Sheriff's Office suggested patrol deputies work three, 10-hour shifts and a six-hour shift Wednesdays, which would be used as an "overlap day" for managing deputies' hours.

No document bearing the name of Sheriff Gary Wall was included in the furlough packet submitted to commissioners.

Finance Director Dan Strnad said the accounting department does not plan to take on furloughs, instead remaining open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected from its original version. Routt County commissioners and their staff did not receive a copy of Sheriff Gary Wall's letter until between 8:30 and 9 a.m. Monday.

A recently adopted 10 percent pay cut for Routt County employees has provided the next point of contention between the Board of County Commissioners and Sheriff Gary Wall.

Wall told County Manager Tom Sullivan on Thursday morning to expect a letter from Sheriff's Office attorneys challenging whether the commissioners have the authority to force a pay reduction on his department.

"I am standing up for the office of sheriff, and I am standing up for my employees," Wall said Friday. "I see that as my obligation as the elected sheriff. : It's a separate constitutional office. : It is my obligation to protect and not turn it over to the county to run."

County Attorney John Merrill said there is no question, in his opinion, regarding the county commissioners' ultimate authority of county expenditures.

"I don't know what they're thinking, quite frankly, but we'll just have to wait to see what they say," Merrill said Friday.

The commissioners received the letter from the sheriff's attorneys Friday afternoon, Wall said Saturday. But commissioners said they did not receive a copy of the letter until between 8:30 and 9 a.m. this morning. The commissioners are expected to discuss the matter at 11:30 a.m. today when they receive legal updates from Merrill.

Citing case law, the commissioners told Wall in their own letter Friday that they "will not authorize payment of any legal or other bills related to this attempt."

The county attorney's office usually provides legal services for all county departments. But Sheriff Gary Wall's quarrels with the county commissioners led them to advise Wall to seek his own legal counsel two years ago. The county attorney ultimately represents the Routt County Board of Commissioners.

While researching whether to pay contested private law firm legal invoices submitted by the Sheriff's Office last year, Sullivan said the county discovered case law supporting its decision not to pay for legal action against the commissioners.

"When a sheriff or any elected official is planning a legal action against the board," Sullivan said, "the board can refuse to pay any legal bills associated with that action."

Wall said it is "incredible" that the commissioners told him to find separate legal representation for the Sheriff's Office and is now refusing to pay legal bills.

"I find it interesting that we are making a legitimate legal challenge to what they've done, and the way they've responded to it is by saying they won't pay our legal bills," Wall said. "This potentially affects employees of all the elected officials. I'm prepared to form a legal fund that people can donate to, to pay legal fees for a lawyer to represent the employees of Routt County."

It is unclear whether the dispute ultimately will result in any formal legal action. Wall said his letter ends by asking the commissioners if they agree with his position. If he is right, Wall said he would not voluntarily cut his department's pay 10 percent to match the rest of the county.

"I'm not going to cut my people's salary if I don't have to," Wall said. "Why would I do that? : No other county in the state has done this."

The commissioners unanimously adopted the emergency countywide pay cut April 1 to help address a $4.9 million deficit in the 2009 budget. Wall said he thinks there were other ways to deal with the shortfall. Asked for specifics, Wall said, "I don't know. I'm not the commissioners."

"I don't want to get into a fight with the commissioners," Wall said. "I'd rather not do it, but I'd rather them not have done what they did. : I said they were going to suck the loyalty out of these people, and that's what they did. : Right now, I believe the right thing to do is make questions about this 10 percent cut."

Comments

Scott Wedel 5 years, 4 months ago

He might have a point that the Commissioners while able to cut his budget may not have the right to specify how the cuts are made.

Though, the Sheriff's dept Oak Creek policy undercuts any suggestion that their budget cannot be severely cut. The Sheriff's dept states that they are meeting the legal minimum of keeping the peace in Oak Creek by: responding to a crime in progress and only investigating violent misdemeanors and felonies.

And why is he complaining about how the cuts were made without having a different plan to make cuts? If he had a different plan to cut the Sheriff's dept budget that was rejected by the Commissioners then he maybe he should talk to a lawyer.

But right now by admitting he has no plan to cut the budget by the needed amount then he has abdicated his budget responsibility and forced the Commissioners to take the action of cutting pay.

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Russell Orms 5 years, 4 months ago

What is it with this guy? When is the next election?

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flower 5 years, 4 months ago

Its tough, but I think I would rather be cut 10% than lose my job. That is what alot of tax payers who pay the county salaries are facing.

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aichempty 5 years, 4 months ago

Scott,

What's YOUR plan for cutting your food budget by 50%? Oh, didn't you know? We decided last week that you should cut your food budget by 50%. Didn't you have a plan in place to do that already?

Maybe it's more reasonable for you to wait until we tell you you have to make the cuts before you publish a plan on how you're going to do it.

Would you rather the sheriff's dept spend time and resources on coming up with a half-million notional plans for eventualities that might never occur? Would you say your plan might be different if the cut was 10%, or 40%?

This is like saying, "If I'd known I was going to have four daughters, I'd have stopped after one." Easy enough after it has come true, but impossible to predict since some circumstances are out of our control -- like what the county commissioners decide among themselves and then spring on the rest of us without notice, like the pay cuts.

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GearyBaxter 5 years, 4 months ago

We all live in our own circumstance and see only what effects us as individuals. Reading the dire effects of people's salaries being cut 10% is urgent to them for sure. Doing with 10% less is not the American way. When was the last time we had to do with less? My pay, as well as others in our company, has been cut by more than 60%. Do I wish the same for everyone else? No. Would I consider a voluntary cut in pay? Hell no. That is the exact opposite of what needs to happen. If more people have less, what good does that do?

However, when I hear whining and complaining about a 10% pay cut, I have to laugh (I love the City's solution - 10% pay cut and take Fridays off. I could go for that!). It seems that whatever effect the economy is having on you, you want everyone else to suffer just as much, and if they are not, then it is not fair. If you have fallen down and are whining, complaining, and blaming, you are in stage two. You need to start working on stage three - getting back up. It is a fabulous feeling and will change your outlook.

I see this economic downturn as a huge opportunity for our country. There are millions of very smart people who have been laid off who are NOT sitting in front of their $2,000 flat panel TV whining and complaining about their circumstance. No, they are using their brains, intuition, and good business sense to start new companies, striking out to fill the needs of whatever they think needs to be filled. Thousands upon thousands of new companies are being created everyday by people that have the same spirit that built this country in the first place (not the gov't).

As for myself, I am going to be involved in starting a new company in energy management field (shameless plug - http://www.utilitrack.com/ ) In the meantime, if anyone is feeling guilty about not being effected by the economy, I would be happy to ease your conscious and have you donate to my "I am going to survive big time fund".

Have a great day and go do something positive. Life Rocks!!

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Duke_bets 5 years, 4 months ago

aich - They were notified of budget cuts some time ago. Wall made no plan so the commission made one for him.

Wall appears to push issues aside until they are engulfed in flames.

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Scott Wedel 5 years, 4 months ago

That the County was cutting budgets was not a surprise.

A million contingency plans would have been silly. 5 or so would have both been predictable and wise. In this environment 5%, 10%, 15%, 20% and 25% cuts are all possible. And make plans all the way down to what he is confident is not enough to keep the peace.

More important than whether or not the Sheriff had a plan in place to handle cuts, is to have an alternate plan before telling a lawyer to write a letter to the County Commissioners and then complaining about the County Commissioners saying they don't have to pay for his lawyer.

If he is going to challenge the cuts made by the County Commissioners then he needs to have an alternate plan and demand that is implemented instead of the pay cuts, or that the cuts would make it impossible for him to to his legally required duty to keep the peace and he was going to court to get a court order forcing the County to fund his dept.

As I noted above, the Sheriff's dept has argued that the legal mimimum is met by responding to crimes in progress, and only investigating violent misdemeanors and felonies. So it will be very hard to argue that the current pay cuts makes it impossible to keep the peace.

What is his legal position now? That while the county commissioners had the right to make emergency cuts in budgets that they didn't have the right to, in the absence of any plan by the Sheriff to implement general pay cuts that implemented the budget cuts?

Meanwhile the county's legal position is that they implemented an emergency budget cut and, lacking any plan from the Sheriff, specified a 10% pay cut.

The county's lawyers must be liking their chances in court.

And the Sheriff trapped himself because to dispute the pay cuts means he is going to have to propose an alternate plan. And then he is going to be the one blamed for making cuts instead of blaming the County Commissioners.

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Matthew Stoddard 5 years, 4 months ago

While I commend the Sheriff (geez-, did I just type that part???) on sticking up for his employees, maybe he could tell us if he has decided to give up his 10% voluntarily. Heck- he might even put that to a fund to help keep his employees from losing too much. A lot too ask from someone who doesn't HAVE to give up his pay. If he's not willing, that's his choice. If he does give up 10% from his own pay (for any reason), it might make detractors look more favorably toward him...until the next thing that comes up due to his budget concerns.

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JLM 5 years, 4 months ago

What sheer absolute nonsense. Any elected official who is not planning to reduce spending and to aggressively manage their budget is guilty of dereliction of duty.

There is not more free lunch, fellas.

Reality, is a b!tch but she is not going away any time soon.

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aichempty 5 years, 4 months ago

Here's another take on it.

If you make a plan that includes cutbacks, then somebody can make you carry it out. If you can make a plan that includes cutbacks, then maybe you were fat in the first place, huh?

By not planning for cutbacks, Wall forced the County to act and now he's using legal and political pressure to preserve the staff at the RCSO. Maybe we should keep all the deputies and get rid of some office staff who can't respond to a call for a violent felony in Oak Creek at 2 AM, eh?

There's no good solution to this mess, but cutting police protection just when we can begin to count on it, and get some help with community policing, is a mistake.

What are we going to do? Expect 10% fewer people to let their dogs run loose, and expect 10% more parents to suddenly supervise their kids? I think I'd rather wait in line to renew my tags than wait for a deputy to drive from Clark to Oak Creek to remove the angry ex-boyfriend pounding on the back door.

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JLM 5 years, 4 months ago

Managing lower levels of revenue requires making tough decisions. Some of those decisions will, in fact, allow for some useful compromises like reducing "tail" while maintaining "tooth" but every one of these decisions is going to require examining the alternatives and stretching a dollar until it snaps.

What will not safeguard "capabilities" is p!ssing money away on unnecessary legal fees. Every dispute does not require unsheathing the lawyers. Sometimes good folks can just reason through the alternatives and move on.

Pay reductions and re-staffing at lower levels of compensation are real world tools which managers must consider and use to be an effective financial manager. This is the real world.

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aichempty 5 years, 4 months ago

J,

It was the county commission that advised Wall to engage legal counsel. The commissioners put themselves into an adversarial position with him.

Like it or not, the elected sheriff and his deputies make life and death decisions. So do fire fighters and EMTs.

Our tax dollars have been squandered on useless crap that does nothing for our health and safety. Police, fire, EMT, building inspection, code enforcement and maybe some others I've forgotten directly impact the physical safety and well-being of taxpayers, and these functions should come first. Tax collection comes next. Recording and accessing public records with legal status (like deeds) comes after that. I'd say that stuff like reviewing outdoor signs comes in around dead last, and certainly it comes after street sweeping and road maintenance.

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