Sheriff must set priorities

As is made clear in the state constitution and statutes, it is not the roll of the county commissioners to establish priorities for elected officials.


Walla Walla County, like local governments throughout Washington state, has more needs than revenue.

So it’s hardly a shock the budget discussions between the county commissioners and the various departments are, at times, tense.

That’s not necessarily bad if all involved understand their roles and their obligations to the public.

But last week’s budget talks between the three commissioners and Sheriff John Turner were not as productive as they could have been because the sheriff and his staff prodded the commissioners to help set priorities for the Sheriff’s Office.

Now in many organizations, whether in the private sector or in government, this might seem reasonable — or even prudent.

But county governments in Washington state are governed by laws and constitutional mandates established as far back as 1889, the year of statehood.

This model of government isn’t always easy for folks to accept, or even grasp, in the 21st century. Yet, until the laws and mandates are changed, this is how county government must run.

The Board of County Commissioners serves as a legislative body that approves ordinances and oversees the budget much like the state Legislature and federal Congress.

What is a bit different from other forms of government is that those who oversee various county offices — auditor, treasurer, clerk, assessor, prosecutor and sheriff — are elected directly by the people.

Turner and a member of his command staff pressed commissioners to offer their opinions on the performance and priorities of the Sheriff’s Office.

Turner told commissioners he wanted their help and guidance in developing the “financial strategy piece” to accomplish goals that would reduce liabilities and risks to the county.

The discussion was said to be uneasy as commissioners were reluctant to address the open-ended questions posed.

Finally, Commissioner Greg Tompkins said it was up to Turner and his staff to set priorities for their department, not the commissioners.

“Here’s my comment. I don’t know anything about law enforcement. My job is to manage the finances and the resources that are brought into the county. I mean I don’t go to Gordon’s (Heimbigner) office and say ‘Gordon, here’s what I think your priorities need to be in the Treasurer’s Office’ no more than I should be going into your office and saying ‘I think we need eight more patrol deputies and you need this, this and this’ because I don’t know that.”

Tompkins is on the mark.

If the commissioners were to set the Sheriff’s Office’s priorities it could be seen as a de facto pledge to fund those priorities. The commissioners’ task is to consider all the priorities of all the elected officials when allocating funds and approving the county’s annual budget.

As is required by state statutes, the sheriff needs to set the priorities for the Sheriff’s Office.



tinstar says...

That is a real problem when somone is elected Sheriff and has no clue as to what he is doing.

Posted 9 August 2012, 1:27 p.m. Suggest removal

Chas says...

That Sheriff Turner appeared to not understand this essential fact brings his competency as a manager into question. I don't believe everything I read, but this added to a long-list of earlier faux pas will probably make the next Sheriff election lively.

Posted 9 August 2012, 7:47 p.m. Suggest removal

tinstar says...

He has had 18 months to do something and has failed to do so. It is quite obvious it will only get worse for the citzens of Walla Walla Co.

Posted 9 August 2012, 7:51 p.m. Suggest removal

Chas says...

What will get worse for the citizens of the County? Specifically? What would you have him do beyond improve his lack of understanding the job requirements? Having a clueless supervisor/ administrator is bad for morale. Early remarks and articles indicated he wanted to reorganize the Department. Was that needed, or, just, big fish little pond?
I'm genuinely curious.

Posted 9 August 2012, 8:19 p.m. Suggest removal

tinstar says...

Turner is going to continue to drain the county coffers. He needs to realize that things here are very different , as to compared to California. Things that may work there don't here. We are not a big city. As to his reorganizing the department. Thats fine to a certain extent. He has implemented several different things, but didn't allow any time, in between, and most are not working. As to the morale it is the worst it has ever been for employees. He states there is 24 hour coverage. Most of the time with his 12 hours shifts, there might be three deputies on for the whole county. That is if someone is not on vacation or 3-4 days off. He said in his campaign that He would never allow a reserve to fill a full time deputy spot. Well He didn't hold true to his word. They are always calling on the 2-3 reserves to fill in for a full time deputy. We are getting less coverage in the county now that ever before.

Posted 10 August 2012, 7:35 a.m. Suggest removal

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