Commissioners Reject Sheriff’s Towns Request For 3 Deputies In Scathing Letter

By: James Pruitt
THE VILLAGE REPORTER

In a sharply-worded letter from the Williams County Board, Sheriff Steve Towns’ request for additional deputies has been rejected and his management skills belittled.

The rebuke from the three commissioners was issued Aug. 4. The letter, signed by all three commissioners (Brian Davis, Lewis Hilkert and Alan Word) was released to the media the same day.

In the letter, the commissioners attacked the points Towns has made when he has approached the board for the added deputies. In each case the sheriff is reproved for only telling one side of the story or for ignoring his own failures as a manager.

The commissioners said the county is still in no position to hire additional staff as it comes out of the effects of the Great Recession. In 2008, the county made across-the-board staffing cuts of 13 percent to maintain solvency.

The county’s financial picture has improved slightly, but in no way enough to proceed with three new deputies. At a meeting with Towns in April, Commissioner Lewis Hilkert said the county was still $850,000 short on the revenue side from 2008 levels.

At that meeting, the sheriff and Lt. Greg Ruskey told commissioners the workload of the deputies had doubled. Towns said his staff is currently overworked with only eight road deputies on the roster, half of what the department had before layoffs in 2009. As a result, his deputies are responding to 100 more calls each per year.

Commissioner Alan Word, a former sheriff himself, disputed Towns’ numbers and suggested the real increase is about 12 calls per deputy per year. He believes the problem resides with Towns’ management of resources.

The letter states the county has become stronger financially because most other elected officials made the necessary cuts.

“Those team players still recognize the economic struggle is not over and that we are not totally out of the woods,” the letter states. “We are not going to fold to your political promises and attempts to apply political pressure on us,” the letter states.

The letter decries the sheriff’s actions that included:

– Failing to mention all other departments made 13 percent cuts.

– Failing to talk about when Towns was a deputy, his leadership of the deputies in refusing to cooperate with Sheriff Beck and the commissioners to find a way to cut some of the benefits in order to save some deputies’ jobs.

– Failing to mention while other deputies lost their jobs, Towns and other senior deputies kept theirs. They continued to receive raises larger than any other county employee, as well as benefits from a contract that surpasses the majority in the county, “as well as the tax payers who pay for them.”

– Releasing reckless information that absolves him of any responsibility for the other deputies losing their jobs.

– Telling others the commissioners were hiding money and that as sheriff, they would have to give Towns the money. The letter states Towns is apparently unable to understand the fund reserves the county has built up.

The fund reserves are vital (and required by the state) for the county in maintaining solvency and the reserves provide interest income to the general fund. The principal of these funds are untouchable, the letter states.

“You only want what you want regardless of the damage you cause,” the letter states.

The letter questions the wisdom of pulling a road patrol officer and making him a DARE officer. While the sheriff told the commissioners he would raise the $75,000 needed for the position through donations, he cannot come back to the board and complain about staff shortages.

The letter talks about a high-paid officer who supervises no one but instead is used for “questionable secret investigations.”

A claim the deputies were busy on the midnight shift turned out not to be true as well, the letter states. Further investigation by the commissioners into the sheriff’s claims for his need of three deputies were not borne out.

“It is very clear to this Board that department activity has grown some, but not nearly as much as you claim. In fact, it’s only a little more than when Sheriff Beck was in office, but your overtime is approximately 300 percent greater than Sheriff Beck’s overtime.”

Comparing the call volume and arrests between Sheriff Beck and Towns, calls have gone up 0.04 percent, while arrests are up 7.7 percent. The commissioners suggest Towns review his management practices and put them to better use.

James Pruitt may be reached at
publisher@thevillagereporter.com

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