Fiscal Court and Sheriff compromise on nepotism, but conflict on budget

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By Brad Bowman

Henry County Sheriff Danny Cravens and members of the Henry County Fiscal Court butted heads over the budget for 2014, which Cravens ulitmately refused to sign.

During Fiscal Court Tuesday, Dec. 17, where cooperation appeared initially conflict followed.
“We met with the sheriff and over the course of a few days, the sheriff agreed to follow our (fiscal court’s) personnel policy,” Magistrate Nick Hawkins said.

After some discussion between Magistrate Scott Bates and the sheriff, Cravens indicated that any personnel policy adjustments for the sheriff’s department would be similar to the existing personnel policy and he also agreed to keep his son Matthew Cravens at part-time.

“Some things have changed, I guess today, in discussion about this,” Hawkins said. “Make sure we are clear on the record, the sheriff is going to follow the nepotism policy, which prevents anyone from hiring a direct family member into a full-time position.”

Cravens conceded.

“That’s correct he’s been part-time for over three years and we will just leave him at part-time,” Cravens said

County attorney Virginia Harrod asked if she should cancel the request for a ruling from the attorney general over which statute takes precedent: one concerning nepotism, or KRS 70.030, which specifically allows sheriffs who don’t operate on a deputy merit board to hire anyone — including immediate family members. Harrod sent the request for clarification after the court’s special meetings in November when the sheriff argued KRS 70.030 superseded the nepotism statute.

“No, go ahead and still get it. I feel like the statute governs who the sheriff is hiring, but there’s no rush on it,” Cravens said. “The nepotism is not coming into play now.”

Cravens explained his son will work as a part-time deputy and aid in the department’s staffing shortage.

“I could’ve used one (a deputy) Saturday. I came out at 6:30 in the morning and I couldn’t call anybody else out because everyone else had reached their hours,” Cravens said. “I was the only one out. There wasn’t any troopers working. So I was the only one working Saturday morning. If I could’ve had a part-time officer, I could’ve called out it, sure would’ve eased things.”

After reaching an agreement on that issue, conflict arose when Hawkins suggested a budget increase of $1,000 from the previous year’s budget for the sheriff’s department.

“The committee (budget committee) met over maybe a couple of hours and had sometimes lively discussion about the budget,” Hawkins said. “With that being said, we had a lot of discussion, but did not reach a consensus to recommend a budget.”

Opinions varied about the sheriff’s office budget, according to Hawkins.

“The sheriff has asked to increase his part-time line item by about $10,000. That in change has caused his excess fees line item to decrease by about  $10,000,” Hawkins said. “My thoughts were that what we had in the budget this year should be sufficient to operate the sheriff’s office next year and would not require an increase in part-time salary.”

According to Hawkins, Cravens felt that his budget had been cut year after year and didn’t want to discuss Hawkins’ recommendations. Pulling budgets from 2007, Hawkins said the sheriff’s department deputy line item increased from  $145,000 to the 2014 sheriff’s proposed budget of $188,000 — a $43,000 increase over six years.

In 2007, the part-time line item in the sheriff’s budget was $26,000. The sheriff’s proposal for the 2014 budget he has presented us is $54, 400 — an increase of  $28, 400.

“The sheriff’s total payroll for 2007 was $283,000. The budget he presented us this year $391,000,” Hawkins said. “The sheriff presented us a budget that included $54,397.45 in his part-time line item. Last year this line item was $45,000, an increase of $9,397. My recommendation was to only increase the line item to $46,000 to give room to make up for all the raises we give all county employees.”

Hawkins’ recommendation would give the court an estimated $22,710 in excess fees from the sheriff’s department. This recommendation would, according to Hawkins, keep the budget more in line with the reductions fiscal court made last year to reduce expenses.

Cravens felt unprepared, not knowing he would have to defend the increase spending — a result, Cravens said, due to an increase in court days and the need for more court security.

“If I knew I was going to have to explain or contradict all these opinions of Nick Hawkins’, I can provide the information that explains everything he said and why there is a difference,” Cravens said. “ Just like there is 61 percent increase in court security time since 2007. If court security increases 61 percent, there’s going to be increase in court security payroll.”

When Cravens took office, the chief deputy acted as bookkeeper and office manager, a luxury Cravens said he doesn’t have now.

“Fiscal court agreed to give me, allow me an additional position. I got a bookkeeper and I got another officer position,” Cravens said. “Then down the road, fiscal court allowed me an additional officer because I needed the help. So fiscal court has approved this so that’s your reason for the increase. Somebody should’ve told me that I would get a chance to explain this out, but apparently it’s not done because there’s not enough time and nobody probably don’t want my explanations out there. We are having court now no less than three days a week and sometimes it’s four or five days a week. The circuit clerk’s office and the judges have asked for more court security and I provide just what they ask for.”

The Administrative Office of the Courts reimburses the sheriff’s office $9 per hour for every deputy used for court security leaving a cost of $2 per hour per deputy. Cravens emphasized the increase in court security due to an increase in court dates and trials isn’t a decision he makes.

“The way he’s (Hawkins) explaining it looks like we are just running rampant with payroll. That’s not so. We are providing a service that wasn’t provided before I took office. That’s what I campaigned on: to use the revenue the sheriff’s office generates and no more…and provide more law enforcement to the county. It seems like I have to do defend that every year. I shouldn’t have to defend it because the service is being provided.”

Henry County Judge-Executive John Logan Brent interjected stating no one argues the sheriff’s increase in services, but argues the cost to the county.

“Nobody is going to argue that you don’t have more deputies on the road. Nobody is going to argue that the court security hours have increased,” Brent said. “But the other fact is that we are paying a lot more, as you put more people out there, our benefits, our insurance and all that went up. And we are paying $273,000 (for those benefits annually) and that’s more than I pay to keep my office running.”

Cravens asked if the court wanted him to cut law enforcement services to residents in the county in order to save the court money.

“I think the problem is you think the sheriff’s office is more important than anything else that happens in the whole county,” Brent said.

“I think people’s lives and property is the most important thing in the county,” Cravens said. “Instead of having officers on the road, you would rather me take everybody off the road and just do a little court security so you can get in return $273,000 in excess fees.”

“That’s not what I am saying at all,” Brent said. “We spend $273,000 (for benefits). You put your payroll in that it’s about $500,000 and something. That totals about $800,000 and something and that’s out of a $3 million general fund budget. I would say $800,000 —something — out of a $3 million budget is a significant commitment.”

Brent concluded that the jailer and sheriff’s budget combined made up $1.4 million of the county’s budget.

After a few volleys back and forth with Hawkins and Brent, Cravens reiterated his compromise and didn’t expect conflict.

“I was told in the meeting (the budget committee meeting) that if I agreed to the county policy and not make my son full-time that my budget would work just fine,” Cravens said. “And I agreed. I compromised. I joined with you and then it’s that I need to cut $10,000 out of my budget (line) and I need that money.”

The $10,000 line item cushion would allow Cravens access to additional money if needed for court security and any unused funds would go back into excess fees. Without the cushion, the sheriff would have to ask the court to amend his budget if the line item ran over it’s budgeted amount.

“Last year’s budget, we had to go back and make an amendment to increase it by $5,500 I think,” Magistrate Roger Hartledge said. “So last year’s budget plus the $5,500 is where we were last year. If you’re $10,000 above last year’s budget you’re only $4,500 above actual operating (cost) for part-time.”

Brent conceded that costs within the sheriff’s department went drastically up over several years due to the state requiring the county to fund hazardous duty pay and wasn’t due to any oversight by the sheriff.

Hawkins made the motion for his budget recommendation. Magistrates David Brown and Michael Fisher voted with him. Although, Brown said he would vote in favor of putting last year’s amended $5,500 back into the budget.

Hartledge felt that Cravens had a sound budget, and despite an offer from Brent to put the $5,500 back into the sheriff’s budget added from last year, Hartledge would only agree to the $10,000 increase.

Magistrate Jerry Beasley, Hartledge and Bates opposed Hawkin’s recommendation. Brent voted to break the tie in favor of Hawkins’ recommendation, but the debate continued.

“One question, don’t I have to sign that and agree to it,” Cravens asked. “I’m not going to sign it and I’m not going to agree to it…I don’t think I am being unreasonable in my request.”

Hawkins explained his budget recommendation would be adequate.

“That would provide two court security officers year round, one part-time person to work in the sheriff’s office year round, and another person to work seasonal part-time per tax season,” Hawkins said, “which in my view is adequate.”

“Nick seems to know more than everybody else…he has no background in security… he’s a telephone operator man,” Cravens said, “And how he knows how to figure what the sheriff’s office needs, he’s never been in there only on budget committee or maybe to pay taxes —and he’s trying to run a constitutional office that he doesn’t have the authority to do. I think it’s political. I think it’s all political because he asked my chief deputy, convinced him to run for sheriff against me. I think it’s all politically based. I really think Nick (Hawkins) should have to abstain from voting and I respectfully ask that he be removed from the budget committee, because I think he is politically biased.”

Hawkins stayed his position.

“Well us telephone men have a lot of big things we can do I guess, but what I told you is accurate,” Hawkins said.

Brent ended the discussion.

“We are not going to reach any agreement so let’s move on,” Brent said.

Despite the sheriff’s refusal to sign the agreement, according to attorneys for the Kentucky Department of Local Government the refusal has no impact.

“The sheriff has to operate within the fiscal court,” Darren Sammons, staff attorney for the Department of Local Government said in a phone interview. “Officials may not agree with the Fiscal Court, but their approval is what is enforced.”