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Castleberry Fairs

Sheriff defends decision to hire prosecutor


February 02, 2012
OSSIPEE— Carroll County Sheriff Chris Conley met last week with the delegation subcommittee as they tried to put the finishing touches on their 2012 budget recommendations. He also took the opportunity to rebut comments made at previous meetings.

One sticking point that has surfaced at every subcommittee meeting is whether or not items in the sheriff's budget are being charged to the appropriate line items in his overall budget. Months ago, subcommittee chairman Rep. Karen Umberger strongly urged the county's finance manager and the sheriff to meet to correct any errors and come to an understanding about how the expenses would be posted.

It was unclear from the sheriff's comments at the Jan. 23 subcommittee meeting whether or not those meetings had occurred. He was, however, quick to defend himself when a question arose about the way salary charges are being posted.

"I don't have any more oversight on the county commissioners than they have on me. The county commissioners have nothing to do with this. The problem is they don't have the right technology, the right personnel or the right procedures in place," he said.

As he has brought up many times in past meetings, Rep. Frank McCarthy rebutted the sheriff's notion that the commissioners have no authority over his budget. "When it comes to his professional law enforcement duties, they do not. State law gives the commissioners certain responsibilities over the sheriff's department. The Supreme Court has agreed, stating the sheriff of each county must cooperate with the commissioners unless it directly interferes with his law enforcement duties," said McCarthy.

Prosecutor

"This is a line item allocated to salaries for law enforcement operations," Conley stated in a written statement presented to the subcommittee. "Prosecution is a law enforcement that deputies are tasked to perform. Presently, I have hired and assigned a part-time attorney. Attorney (Tim) Morgan works approximately eight hours a week. He is paid $37 per hour without benefits; an assistant county attorney is paid $31 plus benefits. It is noteworthy that Attorney Morgan has worked for the past six months and the county personnel office assisted me in processing his pay and introduction to county policies. The commissioners never inquired about Attorney Morgan's role."

At issue was Conley's decision to hire a prosecutor to handle prosecution of court cases rather than taking deputies off their regular duties to appear in court.

Money was not budgeted for the new position in 2011 and it is not a separate line in the proposed 2012 budget. Conley has been charging the prosecutor's pay to the deputy salary line. For most of the year, there were vacant deputy positions, leaving extra money in that line.

In previous subcommittee meetings and commissioners meetings, no one argued against the idea of having a prosecutor, but they had plenty to say about how the hiring was done. County Commissioner Dave Sorensen told Lt. Michael Santuccio Jan. 11 to take word back to Conley that the proper thing to do is to fire Morgan, present the proposed new position and its budget to the delegation for approval, and if they agree to it, hire Morgan back on April 1 when the 2012 budget officially takes effect. "It's illegal the way it is," said Sorensen.

"What gives you the authority to set a salary for a prosecutor that you hire without authority? You don't have the authority," said McCarthy.

"You are pontificating. You're making grandiose statements. You're talking about things you have no basis of knowledge for," rebutted Conley.

Conley also rebutted comments from earlier meetings that he is not communicative with the county commissioners.

"I believe the commissioners will state for the record that I have brought 100 percent accountability and transparency to the sheriff's office. The changes have been transformational and this office is a model for the county," said Conley.

Turnover

At the Jan. 23 subcommittee meeting, Conley said turnover in deputy positions is lower than it has ever been.

Conley provided a list of deputies employed by the sheriff's department from 2000 to present. During the years 2000-2008, 10 deputies left their employment with the sheriff's department. Eleven deputies were hired during those eight years. Conley took office in January 2009. In the past three years, six deputies have left the department and six have been hired.

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