By Nick Hawkins
Next to being a husband and a father, serving our county as a Magistrate has been one of the great honors of my life. I have strived to make decisions based upon my faith, solid principles and the belief that an elected official should always vote for what they feel in their heart is right; even in the face of strong opposition.
Often times, I am faced with making a decision on an issue where opinions seem to be split 50/50 and I know that no matter how hard I try, I will be unable to make everyone happy. In these instances one must look towards his faith, and his principles, to ultimately decide on what his heart tells him is the right thing to do. I believe that people should always know the truth about the actions of their elected officials. This belief has prompted me to respond to the piece in last week’s paper, written by Mr. Jon Park, which contained numerous misrepresentations of the truth.
Mr. Park claimed that we were dragging the Sheriff through the mud to score political points when, in fact, it is the sheriff that elected to spark this debate when he approached fiscal court and requested a $10,000 amendment to his 2013 budget in order to hire his son as a full-time employee. When the budget committee met to discuss the issue, I informed the sheriff that I was not in favor of doing this. The Sheriff already employs both his son and mother-in-law as part-time employees in his office. When questioned about violating the county’s nepotism policy which prohibits us from hiring family members as full-time county employees the Sheriff said, “I have my own policy. I just haven’t written it down yet.”
Mr. Park also stated that the good old boy way of doing things needs to end. I agree. That is exactly why, as a matter of principle, I voted against giving the sheriff an additional $10,000 of taxpayers’ money in order to hire his son to a full-time position.
In 2012 and 2013, the sheriff overspent on his labor budget, fell nearly $100,000 behind on reimbursing the county for his payroll costs and then approached fiscal court requesting salary cap increases just to have enough money to pay his employees. For 2014, the sheriff presented a budget proposal to fiscal court requesting an increase of $9,300 in labor expenses over the previous year. It is my belief that the time had come to take a stand.
Reporting on a meeting that he did not attend, Mr. Park claimed that I had implied to the sheriff that I would vote for this budget proposal and then changed my position. The fact is that I was very clear and up-front with the sheriff and informed him that I would not support increasing spending to this level. The sheriff claimed that this was just politics. I explained that it was a matter of principle and had nothing to do with politics.
It is my job as a magistrate to oversee the county’s budget. The decisions that I make have nothing to do with which political party anyone subscribes to. I’d be the first to tell you that the sheriff has done some positive things with law enforcement in our county, but it is my duty to ensure that we have the money to pay for it. The county’s budget contains funding for our county roads, our EMS program, the county parks, the fairgrounds, animal control, solid waste and economic development, just to name a few. The sheriff and Mr. Park should learn that true leadership requires looking beyond the wants and desires of one particular department and instead focusing on the needs of our county as a whole.
Mr. Park wrote that I should work with the sheriff to make our county a better place. This is exactly what I have done. As chairman of the budget committee, I have recommended year after year to: increase the sheriff’s budget, put more deputies on the street, provide more police protection, and to transition into a larger Sheriff’s office.
Mr. Park, who is chairman of the Henry County Republican Party, moved here from Illinois just a few years ago. His mean-spirited, dishonest letters in the newspaper may have served him well up there, but I doubt they will gain him much favor in Henry County. Mr. Park stated that people are tired of politics and after reading his fourth misleading letter in the paper criticizing me, I couldn’t agree more; therefore I close in the words of Lincoln, “I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The great point is to bring them the real facts.”