Commission calls for decalson all Sheriff#039;s Dept. vehicles

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 1, 2000

A heated discussion over the use and maintenance of County Sheriff vehicles dominated a special meeting of the Butler County Commission on Monday, Feb. 28.

The special meeting, called by Commission Chairman Gary Hanks, was primarily held to discuss personnel problems with the County Road Department, but also had a short agenda of other items. Commissioner Tex Kervin was not present for the meeting.

The commission voted on a motion to sell two sheriff vehicles that were supposed to be placed out of service with that department after replacement vehicles were purchased last month. The sheriff accepted delivery of two patrol vehicles in January that were purchased by the commission to replace two 1994 model vehicles that had high mileage and were becoming maintenance problems.

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Commissioner Leroy Johnson said it was his understanding that the two high-mileage vehicles would be turned over to the commission after the replacement vehicles were delivered so they could be put in service elsewhere or sold. Johnson said this has not happened to date.

Sheriff Diane Harris said that the vehicles were needed by the Sheriff's Department, and the department needed to retain at least one of the vehicles to prevent a shortage of patrol units. The motion passed 4-0.

Harris said the new vehicles were not fully equipped when delivered to the department and cannot be used for patrol duty until completely outfitted. She said that when the new vehicles are fully equipped she will honor the commission's request. She said three new vehicles were requested by the department in the 1999-2000 fiscal year budget but only two were provided. The department will be short one vehicle if both older vehicles are sold, Harris said.

Johnson said the two older vehicles have been partially responsible for the Sheriff's department exceeding its annual vehicle maintenance budget for the last two fiscal years. The motion passed 4-0.

In another vehicle related issue, Commissioner Leroy Johnson made a motion that the county require the Sheriff's Department to place identifying decals on all vehicles used for official business. The commission voted 4-0 in favor of the motion.

Johnson said he felt the decals would help prevent official vehicles from being used for personal reasons. Discussion was also presented that certain department vehicles are displaying normal license plates and not official county plates.

Harris said that at least two of the department's vehicles are used for investigative and undercover operations on a regular basis. She said the presence of identifying decals on these vehicles would prevent them from being used as undercover vehicles and would limit the effective use of those vehicles. She said the department has no intention of following the commission's instructions.

"The commission does provide this department with its equipment, but I am responsible for making sure that equipment is used properly," Harris said. "I will decide which of our vehicles need decals. That is not the commission's place.

"Not only are these two county owned vehicles being used for undercover operations," she continued. "But we also use our own personal vehicles from time to time and we certainly won't place decals on those."

According to state law 36-22-18, the county commission is responsible for providing the Sheriff's Department with the equipment necessary to do its job. No reference to the commission's authority over said property once it is delivered to the Sheriff is made under this law.

Chairman Hanks said he will know within two weeks if the commission can take further action on the subject.

In other business the commission voted 4-0 in favor of rescinding a resolution from the last regular meeting that authorized the sale of the Butler Springs voting precinct that had been abandoned by the county since the early 1990s.

After discussion with area residents, the commission agreed that it would decide how this voting precinct could be better used at a later date.

The commissioners also passed a resolution 4-0 that will allow county employees to transfer accrued sick leave to other employees who might need leave.

Hanks said this practice is common at the state level and should also be offered to the employees of Butler County.

The commissioners entered a 45-minute executive session to discuss personnel issues in the Road Department. Afterwards, Hanks made a motion to provide back-pay to four county employees who had either been docked for disciplinary reasons, or denied pay raises sometime over the last three years.

The vote was locked with Hanks and Robinson voting in favor of the motion and Johnson voting against. Hendrix withheld his vote and said he would agree with whatever the county engineer decided. County Engineer Dennis McCall said he would have to give the matter some thought. No further action was taken on the subject.