Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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County Commission News

Sheriff puts car power before manpower Gets a $171,580 good old boy give back

Scroll down to see the rest of the chart.

Columbia County's good old boys slid $171,580 back to Sheriff Mark Hunter, who after being blown off at the November 4th County Commission meeting, was mysteriously absent from last Thursday's meeting. During the November 4th meeting, Commissioner Frisina called for a public hearing so that Sheriff Hunter could justify his request for overtime expenses. Sheriff Hunter typically refused to stand up or stand up for his men and his request for overtime fell by the wayside. At Thursday's meeting, Columbia County's Sheriff switched from man power to car power and had the County Manager stand in for him.

On November 5th, the day after the Board meeting, Sheriff Hunter wrote a memo to the Board:

Attached you will find Budget Amendment #4 for fiscal year 2010-2011 in the amount of $171,580.00. We are requesting these funds from the prior year-end close monies which were previously returned to the Board in order to purchase patrol vehicles to replace pre-2000 patrol vehicles in our fleet.

The Board was not presented with a budget amendment - They approved it anyway.

Thirteen days after Sheriff Hunter contacted the County Manager his budget amendment was still nowhere to be found. Indeed, it appeared that the Sheriff had turned over no documentation at all. There was no list of cars, no list of serial numbers, no inventory of vehicles and of course there was no explanation from the Sheriff, because he was MIA from the Board meeting.

Before the Board meeting, the Observer asked the County Manager where the Sheriff's supporting material was. The County Manager said, "You've got what I've got."

When the item came up during the meeting, County Manager (CM) Dale Williams told the Board that he asked the Sheriff to submit a vehicle replacement plan, which the Sheriff said is complete and he is prepared to do.

CM Williams did not explain why the completed plan was not sent over for the Board's review or where the Sheriff was. Instead, CM Williams told the Board, "I have not seen it, but he has explained it to me."

Dale Williams
County Manager Dale Williams stood in for missing Sheriff Mark Hunter.

The County Manager continued with a long explanation of what the Sheriff purportedly told him.

The County Manager explained that the Sheriff told him he rotates cars out of the patrol division after 90,000 miles.

The County Manager explained that the Sheriff said if the department didn't get the money he would have to wait another year or so before he rotated the cars and replaced them.

There was never an explanation regarding what the Sheriff was doing or had planned to do about vehicle replacement before his budget amendment. It is equally unclear who decided on this plan and how, when or why it was decided.

48 Patrol Cars - 30 Patrol Officers

The County Manager said the Sheriff wants to replace a third of the department’s 48 patrol cars every year. At no time did anyone say how many patrol cars were pre 2000, which is what the CM earlier claimed the Sheriff wanted to replace.

On August 10, 2010, the patrol division of the Sheriff's Department, including supervisors, had 39 officers on the payroll.

Commissioner Williams asked the County Manager, "Dale, the Board still allocate so much money a year for vehicle replacement?"

CM Williams answered, "One hundred and twenty five thousand."

Commissioner Williams responded, "We do a hundred and twenty five thousand now.  This would be in addition to the amount we allocate for that. I think that Dick can tell us whether he took that money and bought cars with it or put it in personal services. If he put it in personal services he won't get it next year."

Richard Powell is the internal-external auditor, who now has someone from his office embedded in the Sheriff's Office to straighten out their books.

Richard Powell has been auditing the Sheriff's books for years. He is the auditor who purportedly failed to find the alleged $300,000 embezzled from the department.

The Sheriff has the most budgetary latitude of any Constitutional Officer and can move his money around virtually without oversight.

The table shows the expenditures for Law Enforcement vehicles for the past four years by the former Sheriff, Bill Gootee and current Sheriff, Mark Hunter.

The $488,660 Sheriff Hunter claims to have spent on vehicles in 2009 appears to be an all time Columbia County record.

In FYE 2010 Sheriff Hunter asked for $125,000 for vehicles. At the end of the year he projected a $88,401 expenditure.

Before Com DuPree made a motion to give the Sheriff the $171,580 in extra car money, he said, "There's no doubt in my mind if Sheriff Hunter says he's gonna buy cars, he's gonna buy cars."

Commissioner DuPree may have hit the nail on the head, as Sheriff Hunter is on track to spend $296,580 on more cars.

Or maybe not, for in the helter-skelter world of Columbia County finance – anything goes.


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