BY ROBERT MORALES
Itâ€™s been a few weeks since county commissioners discussed adding a new deputy to the payroll before the new budget hearings take place in August. So far, nothing has been done.
Apparently no one is listening. The Advocate ran a story about the discussions that took place during that last meeting, and commissioners were in agreement that they would approve the immediate hiring of a new deputy before the new fiscal 2014-2015 budget is passed in August. The Advocate also ran an editorial that same week about the dire need to hire the one additional deputy.
Letâ€™s look at the facts. The county is running a surplus, thanks to the more than $500,000 in sales tax revenues it has taken in this year. The Sheriffâ€™s Office has about $60,000 in inmate funds that could be used to hire the deputy. So whatâ€™s the problem?
The problem is the dysfunction that exists between the various county offices. County government is an antiquated system of government that allows for this type of dysfunction. All major offices are elected positions. Unlike municipalities, where a mayor is either a strong mayor or a weak mayor, as is the case in Van Horn, the city administrator / city manager runs all the major functions of the city, and all department heads report to the city administrator.
In contrast, county government has no department heads, with the exception of a few low-level managers that report to a commissioner or to some other higher-up. Putting it simply, itâ€™s a disastrous form of governing.
One would think the county judge, the highest elected officer in the county, would have some authority over the other county offices, but that is simply not the case. The county judge can strongly “urgeâ€ these elected officeholders to do the right thing, but politics are stronger than a recommendation coming from another elected official.
These county elected officials, some of them who have been in office for decades, simply donâ€™t care, or have simply forgotten why they are in office in the first place. They were hired by the taxpayers to do a job. It is not their office, and they must be reminded that they are accountable to the taxpayers for every action they take.
As we stated in our last editorial on this subject, this a no-brainer. Simple math dictates that with a county the size of ours the few deputies we have simply cannot do the job effectively.
We had a visitor in our office on Tuesday that ridiculed our headline that ran on our front page a few weeks ago, “Weâ€™re not Supermen.â€ He said that the deputies are “not doing their job.â€ He added that he was in the “majorityâ€ of locals who were against hiring new personnel. We had a rather heated discussion that involved the raising of our voices to make each other heard.
That gentleman is wrong.
It is impossible for the current number of deputies to respond to calls in the county that may take 20 minutes or longer to arrive at their destination. That may leave one deputy, or in some cases, no deputy at all, to take care of any potential problems in the city.
The time has come for someone at the county to make a decision. Are you going to wait until we have a mass shooting at our school? Are you going to wait until we have our first murder in many years? What will it take for county officials to hire the appropriate number of personnel?
Commissioners at their last meeting talked about adding two more deputies, in addition to the one new officer prior to the new budget. Commissioners are already on the wrong track if they think three new deputies will take care of the problem, given the impending influx of population with oil and gas exploration and drilling in the northeast part of the county.