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Commission, Sheriff Spar Over Jail Issues

Retention was once again at the forefront of another Butler County Commission meeting Tuesday. This time emotions ran high as commissioner Dan Woydziak took some time to address his frustrations with the sheriff’s department about how the inmate reduction was handled, specifically how he was informed.

Woydziak was absent at last week’s meeting where sheriff Kelly Herzet and Captain Erik Ramsey told commissioners they were cutting the number of Kansas Department of Corrections and Sedgwick County inmates. He told Herzet that given his past actions of support towards the sheriff’s department, he felt hurt and betrayed to find out about the reduction by someone other than Herzet, and felt “back doored,” by the situation.

Woydziak did not share with commissioners how or when he found out about the reduction, but stated Tuesday that, “to find out through staff or email rather than you (Herzet) I feel a little betrayed.”

“I understand why you decreased inmates and I’m not opposed to it,” Woydziak said. “But when I put myself out there and then have to read about this happening, I was angry and disappointed beyond belief. I go to bat for you time and time again and this is the way you guys treat me? I thought we had a better relationship than that. I hope this doesn’t affect how I approach things.”

The commissioner spoke for several minutes about his displeasure on finding out about the inmates after the fact, eventually moving onto talk about the retention plan, that was tabled last week due to Woydziak’s absence and the consensus that all commissioners should have some input on the policy. Herzet did not respond during the meeting to Woydziak’s complaints.

Woydziak went on to argue later in agreement with approving some sort of revamped retention policy, but not before other commissioners raised concerns about funding the policy as is.

Last week Herzet and Ramsey outlined a retention policy that would give new hire’s a $1,000 hiring bonus, then $500 for six months of employment and another $500 at a year. Current employees would qualify for the benchmarks, with anyone who had been employed at the jail for a year or more receiving $1,000.

Minor changes after last week’s discussion were made to the policy that was presented on Tuesday. Per commissioners request an date was added to the policy.

“We basically feel like we have to approve whatever you put before us,” commissioner Ed Myers said. “We have been as accommodating as possible. We have have a lemon here tossed into our lap and we’re trying to make lemonade.”

Myers stated he didn’t feel he could pass the policy without more information on how the reduction of inmates will affect the budget, and where the money to fund the projected loss would come from. Currently the jail is losing $1,300 a day due to the inmate reduction.

“Then we can use this in a series of action to achieve a longterm solution,” Myers said.

Commissioner Mike Wheeler raised concerns about a precedence the policy, if approved would set for other departments.

“It’s disappointing because we don’t have half a million laying around to close a budget hole,” Wheeler said.

Myers and Wheeler’s budget concerns were mirrored by commissioner Jeff Masterson.

“My concerns are budgetary too,” Masterson said. “I’m not ready to support this program until we look at the budget and see how we can fill that hole. Right now we don’t have enough information. As a sheriff you (Herzet), can pull inmates, but we need to work together so we can do the right thing by the budget. I’m not opposed to this policy, but we have to look at everything.”

Masterson went on to ask Herzet to look at his department’s and the jails budget to see if and where any cuts could be made.

“Nothing is off the table,” Masterson said.

He recommended looking at shutting down pods at the jail, to increasing the amount of Marshal’s inmates, which pay the county the most to house.

Woydziak asked what savings the jail would have now that the inmate count is lower. Administrator Will Johnson said. that while jail utilities would remain the same, meals would go down by $150 a day.

The idea of privatizing the jail was brought up by Wheeler.

“Then you’re stuck paying for your county inmates,” Johnson said about the idea.

Myers countered with, “We’re already doing that by paying for a jail.”

“Half a million is not an insignificant amount of spare change,” Myers said. “That is equal to some budgets of entire county departments. We’re dealing with hard cold cash and we have to come up with it from somewhere else. We have to be more quantitative in the policy. This policy does not have performance levels, but the jail has actual losses every day.”

After Myers suggested adding an end date and performance steps into the policy to gauge it’s effectiveness.

“We need to stop playing games with this because it’s a police that can set a precedent,” Myers said. “We have to have bench markers in the policy so we can say it worked or it didn’t’ work.”

The discussion diverted into inmate population count, which Herzet said there were 30 more county inmates in jail recently due to a drug sweep by the City of El Dorado. Many of those inmates do not have the resources to pay bonds and are still being housed at the jail. Shortly after the conversation once again circled back around to inmate counts, and then swung back to retention.

“We have do something to get people in the door,” Herzet said.

“I have no problem going forward with the incentives,” Woydziak said. “We need to look at our hiring practices and our goals. Regardless if we don’t have the inmates we have to find the money so everything needs to be on the table.”

Masterson broke the problem down into steps; one reduce inmates to make jail safe; two look at finances; three pass policies to increase retention.

“It’s easy to criticize the builders of the jail,” Masterson said. “We have to figure out the rest.”

Woydziak disagreed with the step order. He told commissioners he believed that getting new people hired would help solve some budget issues. His logic was the sooner detention deputies were hired, the sooner revenue generating inmates could be brought back.

“We need to reduce mandatory overtime,” Masterson said. “It’s turing people away. Increasing staff is a piece of that.”

Johnson then went on to suggest different benchmarks to add to the policy. They include having so many positions filled in certain periods of time. At each time period the policy will be up for review by commissioners. If the benchmarks are met than inmate levels could be increased to certain levels. Also discussed was giving employees a referral bonus for anyone they referred who worked at the jail or a certain period of time.

“We have our homework,” Masterson said. “What I need from you (Herzet) is some help to help us out with the shortfall because you can’t just throw this out there and leave us to clean it up. We’ll need some help finding places to make cuts. I’m not asking you to find the whole half a million, but to find something in your budget.”

Masterson also expressed that any resolution to the retention problems would have to come with cooperation from both the sheriff’s department and commission.

Nearing the end of the discussion, Myers asked about doing studies on every aspect of jail operations including possible privatization.

“I don’t want next year to be back in the same boat,” Myers said. “Now is the time to look at everything.”

Myers said he would like to have a short term plan in place by the end of the month and and a long term plan by June to help reduce potential losses.

“I think this needs to be on the agenda every week to discuss,” Johnson replied.

To end the discussion commissioners and Herzet discussed increasing the number of Marshal prisoners.

“We’re not really a revenue generating agency,” Herzet said. “My job is to keep the safety and run a good clean jail. At the end of the day I have to keep our employees safe. Per statute I have to run the jail as safe as I can.”

“And we have to find a way to pay your electric bill,” Masterson said.

The retention policy will be on the agenda again for next week.

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