Hickman Responds to Task Force CriticismsYour latest...

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

March 27, 1994

Hickman Responds to Task Force Criticisms

Your latest diatribe against the Carroll County Drug Task Force is, typically for you, at odds with the facts. You have attempted, repeatedly, to paint a picture of the drug task force, or the drug task force advisory board, as obstructing in one fashion or another an audit of the drug task force finances.

Let me set the record straight:

1.) A member of the advisory board first asked for an audit. At the very outset last April, Westminster Police Chief Sam Leppo asked the county auditor to audit the books and he said that would not be necessary.

2.) Change No. 1 then occurred and the auditor was instructed by the commissioners to audit, and he was given the books showing all receipts and expenditures.

3.) The audit was completed by June and the county commissioners met with the drug task force advisory board and advised us they were satisfied with the audit and it was done.

4.) Change No. 2 -- three days later at a meeting with the county commissioners, we learned that they had changed their minds and wanted more information, more audit.

We were surprised but we discussed the information sought and should have come away with a good understanding of what it was.

5.) Over a period of seven months, information was repeatedly supplied, sometimes twice. Many hours were spent doing this.

6.) At a meeting with the commissioners and the auditor in January, at a time when we believed the audit was complete, we learned more was needed. Change No. 3. Quite frustrated, seven of us spent two hours asking the auditor what he needed.

These seven included the chief of police of Westminster; the county sheriff; from the state police, a major, a captain, a lieutenant; and a senior assistant state's attorney and myself. Again, we should have come away with an understanding of what the auditor needed. We requested a completion date of Feb. 15, contrary to the picture of stonewalling by the advisory board that you have sought to paint.

7.) In February, another auditor visits and informs us he is doing RTC a performance audit, Change No. 4. Recognizing the obvious legal problems of a county agency conducting a performance audit of state and city agencies, I drafted a letter to the commissioners outlining the problem. Before sending the letter, members of the drug task force advisory board learned the auditor was examining files which would reveal the identities and/or telephone numbers of persons who furnished confidential information leading to the arrests of drug dealers, this being Change No. 5.

We had to stop at this point and seek guidelines for such audits from the attorney general. . . .

8. Now I have been informed the commissioners are not seeking a performance audit and the scope of the audit need not include a review of confidential materials, Change No. 6.

The time spent on this audit by board members has been substantial. One task force advisory board member has spent 80 hours with a county auditor. We have given an auditor a record of every nickel collected and every expenditure right down to purchases of toilet paper for the task force office bathroom. In no respect have we failed to cooperate where we have been legally able to do so.

You have written at least six editorials attacking the drug task force or its board over this audit. If the facts were laid out alongside your work, your editorials are pitifully wrong and would give the public an entirely different picture than the one you portray.

We are now in the 11th month of this audit of $20,000. I should point out to you that the state's attorney's office, using one auditor, once conducted an audit of the entire school budget, right down to the nickels in the Coke machines -- in 11 months.

Fortunately, the drug task force has continued to perform in an outstanding manner with 30 arrests this year already, a record pace -- all felonies.

During the existence of the drug task force, more than 90 percent of its arrests have resulted in convictions and 90 percent its vehicle forfeitures have been upheld in the courts.

This year will see the prosecution of more cases for mandatory prison terms for repeated offenders than in the prior 157 years of this county put together. Many dealers who have broken the law more than once will be removed from our community.

Maybe such enforcement is one of the reasons only two drug-related killings have occurred in Carroll County in the last 20 years.

Thomas E. Hickman

Westminster

The writer is state's attorney for Carroll County.

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