The Raging Controversy of the Allegany County Road Patrol
"Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me."
This child’s-play adage is certainly being put to the test when it comes to the barrage of criticism recently hurled at the Allegany County Commissioners. You could hardly blame them for wanting Kevlar skin after being accused at various times of being: "underhanded, a disgrace, dishonest, incompetent, part of a posse, a jeopardy to safety, spiteful, part of a civil conspiracy, comparable to a roach, and not qualified to be dog-catchers." And if you think that is not quite enough opprobrium for any three people, throw in the fear expressed on the part of one of our citizens that because of the actions of the Commissioners, “our next President of the United States could hand us over to the European Union, and our way of life, Constitution, and sovereignty will be gone.”
All of this refers, of course, to the raging controversy that has boiled up over the decision of the Allegany County Commissioners to transfer control of the county road patrol from the Sheriff's Department to the more recently formed CountyBureau of Police.
In order to try to make some rational sense of this vitriolic dispute, I spoke at length with the Commissioners, the director of the Public Safety Department, and the county attorney.In addition, I gathered from the archives of the Cumberland Times-News articles written by the staff, as well as the letters-to-the-editor that were submitted on this topic. Herein is an attempt to present a compilation of the events surrounding the newly-formed county road patrol. Unfortunately, there was no opportunity to speak with Sheriff Goad prior to the publication deadline for this week's issue of The Appalachian Independent. I will have that opportunity in the next few days, and in the near future there will be Part 2 of County Road Rage, with Sheriff Goad's viewpoints presented.
It might be helpful to begin with a review of how the government of Allegany County is set up, for in reading the comments of the general public, it is obvious that there is a tremendous amount of misinformation present in people's minds.
Years ago, the citizens of AlleganyCounty voted to be governed by what is known as Code Home Rule.Under this system, the Commissioners are granted the power to propose and pass local legislation, as long as it does not conflict with the laws of the State of Maryland.The clear advantage in this method of governance is that it allows issues particular to AlleganyCounty to be passed by locally elected officials, rather than having to go to Annapolis and getting the approval of the entire state legislature.Most people would probably agree that issues that are pertinent only for AlleganyCounty should not be decided by people downstate.
This process for the enactment of laws begins with the Commissioners proposing a Code Home Rule Bill.Public hearings are held, affording citizens an opportunity to comment on the proposal.After this public discussion, the Commissioners vote on the legislation.If it passes, the public has a right to contest the decision, and to have it put to a referendum.This petition for a referendum has to be completed within forty days, and it must ultimately have the signatures of ten per cent of the registered voters.In that forty day deadline, you have to have the signatures of at least five per cent of the registered voters, and then you get another forty days to bring the total to ten per cent.
In June of 2007, the Commissioners enacted a Code Home Rule Bill that established the office of Public Safety, Homeland Security, and Bureau of Police. This was done under authority of MarylandState legislation.As you can see from the organizational chart of the County, this office is directly under the purview of the Commissioners.
The Bureau of Police was subsequently given authority, again under a Code Home Rule Bill, to exercise police powers within the boundaries of AlleganyCounty, with the initial duties consisting of patrolling the Allegany Highlands Trail.There was no public referendum initiated when this bill was proposed, and as a result, it was passed into law.
Looking again at the organizational chart, you can see that the Sheriff’s Department is not directly under the jurisdiction of the Commissioners.The sheriff is an elected official, and according to State law, is responsible for courthouse security and serving legal papers.There is nothing that mandates a county road patrol to be under the jurisdiction of the sheriff.In fact, in a number of counties in Maryland, they have opted for the road patrol to be handled by a county police force, rather than the Sheriff’s Department.
With a Bureau of Police already in place, the Commissioners then made the decision to transfer the road patrol from under the Sheriff’s control to that of the office of Public Safety, Homeland Security, and Bureau of Police.The county road patrol would thus be under the jurisdiction of the director, Mr. Gary Moore, who ultimately answers to the Commissioners.While the courts will have any final say in pending lawsuits that contest this decision to transfer the control of the road patrol, the legal opinion expressed by the county attorney, Mr. William Rudd, and others, is that it is well within their legal right to make this decision.
So why is it that the Commissioners would undertake this action, as it has obviously unleashed a torrent of angry protest? The rationale consistently provided by the Commissioners is that they were no longer willing to deal with literally years of repeated efforts to have Sheriff Goad administer his department within the fiscal constraints of his budget.In other words, they felt compelled to make this change when faced with the fact that the Sheriff’s Department budget has spilled nothing but red ink for the past ten years, with more than a $300,000 deficit for the fiscal year that ended June, 2008, and at least $1 million over for the past eight to ten years.
The problem that the Commissioners feel confronted with is that the county is required by state law to maintain a balanced budget.At the end of the fiscal year, they cannot have a deficit.The law does not permit it.Thus, when there are decisions to be made in regard to the county budget, there are three fundamental choices:each department must stay within their budget, the budget has to be cut from other departments, or taxes have to be raised.According to the Commissioners, no other county department has had a deficit, and they see no reason for the Sheriff’s Department to be a repeated exception.
The budget for the county is the responsibility of the Commissioners, and each year it is set after consultation with department heads, a review of their proposals, as well as input from the Finance Department.The public is also provided an opportunity to comment on the budget.The Commissioners adamantly maintain that it is the fiscal responsibility for each department to stay within the spending allocated by their budget.In the Sheriff’s Department, excess spending above what was budgeted has always been as a result of the road patrol.The contention of the Commissioners is that by moving the road patrol to a department that is directly under their jurisdiction, they will rein in the red ink.
According to the Commissioners, they have made many efforts in trying to have Sheriff Goad stay within the bounds of his budget.They explained that they have attempted to have a CPA from the Finance Department sit down with the Sheriff and go line by line over the budget, but this has been to no avail, with the Commissioners stating that the Sheriff would not take part in those efforts.They indicate that they have been unsuccessful in having face to face meetings with him, and for the most part, allegedly he has not responded to their requests for an opportunity to get together to resolve the budget issues.As reported by the Commissioners, there were three open meetings scheduled in regard to the budget, and the Sheriff was said to be the only department head to not attend.The Commissioners granted that he was out of town during one of the meetings, but nonetheless, he failed to let them know of this, and made no attempt to re-schedule the meeting.The feeling they have received from Sheriff Goad is described by the Commissioners as, "It's like he's thumbing his nose at us.”
News reports have indicated that Sheriff Goad claimed that he had no choice but to go over his budget, due to inadequate funding to perform the duties of his office.In the past, one of the issues was the cost of road patrol dispatchers, but this was resolved when all of the dispatching functions for the county (EMS, etc.) were incorporated into one office, eliminating at least one expensive line item from the Sheriff’s Department budget.The current issue that seems to be the source of contention is that of overtime.Mr. Goad has made comments to the effect that he is consistently under-funded and set up for failure, as he has no choice but to approve the overtime measures that have been responsible for his deficit.The Commissioners counter that there have been two professional audits done by outside agencies, and that they “revealed overtime reporting irregularities,” and “documented the fiscal mismanagement and lack of managerial supervision in the road patrol division.”They pointed out that yet a third audit is in the process of being done.
In the Times-News, Mr. Goad has been quoted as stating, “The bad thing here is the county (Commissioners) believe that they run my office.They don’t run my office.They fund my office.”The Commissioner’s response to this is that they have made no attempt to micromanage his office, but have only insisted that expenditures be kept in line with the approved county budget.
Many of the questions from the public in regard to the road patrol transfer have spoken of a concern that there will be a duplication of services, and thus an even higher cost to taxpayers.The Commissioners, however, have adamantly maintained that this is not the case:“The institution of a road patrol by the countyBureau of Police will not result in the duplication of services.The Bureau of Police will now be responsible for law enforcement in the unincorporated areas of the county not served by municipal police departments.The Sheriff’s Office will not have any law enforcement obligations but will continue to be responsible for performing its constitutional duties of providing courthouse security and serving civil process.”(Quoted from a Times-News letter to the editor.)
In speaking with me, the Commissioners and Mr. Moore, head of the Department of Public Safety, have given verbal assurances that the county road patrol will stay within the bounds of its current and future budgets.Mr. Moore stated that in the past he has been an official in the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), was responsible for a budget of over 800 million dollars, and was never once over budget.He expressed nothing but confidence that he would be able to manage the county road patrol and stay within the appropriated budget.While granting that there may be some initial short term costs in this transfer, the fiscal year-end spending will be within the designated budget.Both he and the Commissioners strongly believe that any of the initial costs will be far outweighed by the long term benefits of a cost-efficient management structure.
It seems that any concerned citizen’s interpretation of these fisticuffs of mammoth proportions over the road patrol should perhaps be determined by answering the following questions:
1) Should the Sheriff’s Department have to stay within its budget?
2)Is the Sheriff correct in maintaining that he is consistently under-funded and forced to go over his budget by paying overtime?
3) Are outside audits correct in their assessment that there are mismanagement issues and reporting irregularities in the road patrol overtime?
4)Are the CountyCommissioners correct in their assessment that the Sheriff has failed to properly manage his department so as to stay within the approved budget? If this is accurate, should the Commissioners by way of the Bureau of Police take control of the road patrol?
As quoted by Delegate Myers, the bottom line future of the road patrol ultimately should not be decided by State legislators, “This county decided by a vote to adopt Code Home Rule.Whether you agree or disagree with the decisions of the county commissioners, that problem will be solved at the ballot box.It should not be solved by the legislators.”
So, Dear Readers, the choice is yours.Consider both sides of the issue (stay tuned for Part 2 with Sheriff Goad) and exercise your rights as citizens of a participatory democratic society.The ballot box is available for you to vote in the next scheduled election for whichever candidates for CountyCommissioner and Sheriff who support your view.
Comments welcomed. Participate in the dialogue of democracy.