Sheriff Conley criticized for not attending meetings
Sheriff says he is ready to answer questions anytime
October 14, 2010
OSSIPEE —County Sheriff Christopher Conley was again made conspicuous by his absence at last week's county commission meeting on Oct. 6 — marking the third time in a row that the sheriff hasn't appeared.
But the sheriff said he had no idea that he was supposed to be on the agenda.
At last week's meeting, Sheriff's Capt. David Meyers answered questions about overtime pay for court officers and about three new cruisers that are on order. But, the there were questions for the sheriff about his budget that were left unanswered.
For weeks, county watchdog Dave Babson of Ossipee, has been wondering why the sheriff has overspent a few line items in his budget — although the overall sheriff's budget has not been over spent.
According to meeting minutes for Sept. 22, Babson is quoted as saying budget numbers from the end of the second quarter show Sheriff Conley's subscription fees were at 103 percent, education and conferences were at 209 percent, and firearms training is at 128 percent. Babson is running for state representative and if elected would be part of the governmental body that determines the county's budget.
"I asked three weeks ago why the budget is out of whack," said Babson. "Why can't we get an answer?"
By phone, Conley explained that he hasn't been dodging the commissioners. About his absence from the Oct. 6 meeting, Conley said that he had already addressed questions from Commission Chairman David Sorensen and that he and Sorensen agreed there was no reason to also attend the commission meeting.
Instead, Conley said he attended a Sheriffs Association meeting in Goffstown.
As for the budget, Conley said in one case the administration took money out of the wrong line item for training. In other cases, there have been reimbursements, he said. In regard to the other two meetings he missed, commissioners must have penciled him in the schedule without asking if he was available.
"If any sheriff has shown a propensity to work with them it's me," said Conley.
Finance Manager Kathy Garry confirmed that his department is awaiting a reimbursement for education and conferences and that Conley has only spent 68 percent of his budget by Sept. 30. According to Garry, the sheriff is okay as long as he doesn't overspend his bottom line.
The situation got more complicated because Sorensen was absent on Oct. 6: he was working at the Fryeburg Fair.
By phone, Sorensen said the sheriff was scheduled to be on the agenda twice before. But Sorensen said he's under the impression the sheriff had a conflict with a court case during the first meeting. Sorensen said he isn't sure why the sheriff was unavailable for the second. As for the meeting on Oct. 6, Sorensen said he asked the sheriff to call the commission's office if he didn't plan on attending.
Commissioner Chip Albee said the sheriff is an elected official and is under no obligation to attend commission meetings. In fact, Albee added he himself had no obligation to attend his own commission meetings. Albee was acting as chairman on Oct. 6.
However, budget season is coming, he said, and the sheriff will need to attend a commission meeting soon. In county government, the commission is responsible for proposing the county budget to a group of 14 state representatives (called the delegation), who approve the money. The commissioner's process of crafting a county budget includes working with other elected officials, such as the sheriff.
"That avoidance that's been going on for the last six or eight weeks is going to end at the end of this month or the first of next month," said Albee.
The current board of commissioners has a policy of watching the cash flow so that they can detect problems early, said Albee. Other county departments have been more transparent, he said.
"The issue here is the sheriff doesn't have a willingness to enter into that dialogue," said Albee. "We can't help the sheriff's office out with our expertise and knowledge and ability to look at problem solving if he doesn't want to come in."
Albee went on to say that Conley and previous sheriffs have had a "total disregard for the law." Earlier in the year, Albee and Conley had a dispute over the promotions and raises that Conley gave to the county's emergency dispatchers. Albee cited a Supreme Court case that he said gave sheriff's control over deputized employees — but not dispatchers, office workers, and such.
Conley strongly refuted Albee's points and added that Albee seems to bring these issues to a head when the sheriff isn't around.
"Any question he asked, I've answered," said Conley. "I'm available 24 hours per day 365 days per year."
Babson contends that attendance problems runs deeper than the sheriff's office. He said during the last delegation meeting, only eight of the 14 state representatives showed up — and the ones that attended didn't seem to take a thorough look at the second quarter numbers. Babson noted that none of the delegates saw the budget in advance.
"We're paying them $25 plus mileage to come here and review the budget and they haven't seen the damn thing, they don't know what they are talking about and then they have it in front of them and they don't ask any questions," Babson complained.
Albee replied that the individual delegates could have asked for copies of the budget themselves. He added it didn't seem necessary to mail budgets in the hope that the delegates would review the information.
"How much hand holding do we have to do," Albee asked.
Sheriff's candidate Domenic Richardi, who is opposing Conley in the general election, said he'd act differently if elected. Also, Richardi said Conley wasn't being transparent.
"I go to meetings now," said Richardi.