Sheriff Brown's double-edged cuts? Justifiable budget reductions or convenient cover to punish employees?

March 13, 1996

SHERIFF JOHN H. BROWN'S recent reshuffling of four deputies raised a ruckus at the Carroll County Detention Center.

Carroll's sheriff claims the transfers were made to satisfy a county-ordered budget cut. Several deputies claim the personnel changes were nothing more than retribution for attempting to form a union.

By transferring the three deputies to the correctional division of his office and changing the duties of another deputy, the sheriff says he will save more than $117,236. In these times of fiscal austerity, such savings are vital.

However, Sheriff Brown's claim that these moves were budget-driven doesn't necessarily square with the facts. It appears Mr. Brown may be using the budget as a convenient cover to hide an effort to punish some of his underlingings.

If reducing expenditures were the prime motivation, Mr. Brown could have juggled schedules and instituted a program of rotating furloughs among all of his personnel. The pain of the cuts would then have been spread evenly throughout the department. Or, he could have disbanded his ill-advised drug strike force and saved those salaries.

Perhaps it is just a coincidence that those most affected by the sheriff's moves include the president, vice president and two members of the union effort. Three of the people being transferred to the detention staff are experienced officers, yet they will start out at the bottom of the correctional division. That means they will be on probation for six months, have to attend classes on corrections and are no longer eligible for promotion as deputies.

Law enforcement personnel regulations are among the most Byzantine in government. Criteria such as rank, longevity, training and experience are all supposed to count in determining promotions.

Nevertheless, top law enforcement officials always enjoy a certain amount of discretion in appointing and promoting their subordinates. Despite a personnel system that, at least on paper, is based on merit, the practice in most sheriff and police departments is one laden with favoritism and politics.

Mr. Brown's latest personnel moves only reinforce the perception that how well one does his job is secondary in his office.

Pub date: 3/13/96

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