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June 5th, 2013 ANDREA DAMEWOOD | News Stories
 

A Sheriff on Probation

The Multnomah County board prepares to crack down on Staton’s overtime spending.

news1_3931ILLUSTRATION: Matthew Billington
Multnomah County Sheriff Dan Staton is about to see his runaway overtime spending put into lockdown.

Staton routinely spends nearly twice the money he budgets for overtime, and he’s on pace to shatter his record $7.9 million in overtime last year. Multnomah County commissioners have accused him of mismanaging his budget—and a huge spike in the number of inmates released early from jail because of overcrowding is the result, they say.

Now, according to internal county documents, commissioners are about to take the extraordinary step of making Staton come back to them every three months to justify his spending.

“I think it’s incumbent upon us to see the money is spent wisely and effectively,” Commissioner Deborah Kafoury says. “If there’s something we can do to help, and to encourage greater oversight on the overtime, then that’s a step in the right direction.”

Staton—who last week told WW he intends to run for re-election in 2014—declined to be interviewed for this story. 

The board historically has struggled to control spending by the sheriff, who is independently elected. The county will hand over $124 million to the sheriff this year, but once it does, it can’t tell him what to do with it.

But some deputies have used overtime to double their pay, and Staton claims he is so short-staffed he must pay overtime to cover shifts in a department that runs 24/7 (“Overtime Busts,” WW, Jan. 9, 2013).

The board will meet June 5 to consider new restrictions on how money for Staton’s department is doled out.

Documents show commissioners plan to limit overtime  for the first quarter of the new budget year to $748,014—a sum his department often blows through in just one month.

Under the proposed plan, drafted by Commissioner Judy Shiprack, Staton would have to come back to the board every three months with an accounting of vacancies and retirements, what’s driving overtime costs, and the department’s top 10 overtime earners.

Shiprack says she’s spoken with Staton and he agrees with the move. “This is really viewed as a teamwork effort to get a handle on the problem,” Shiprack says.

The commissioners are tired of waiting for Staton to fix his budget, and they’re worried that his millions in overspending is linked to the jail’s rash of emergency releases.

The county jail released 913 inmates last year because of overcrowding, compared to just 82 inmates in 2011. It’s on pace to set even more inmates free this year.

During a May 22 meeting, Staton told the County Commission that half the inmates released for overcrowding commit another crime. “I’m very concerned about the serious offenders I’m forced to release,” he said.

So are the commissioners.

At the same meeting, Commissioner Loretta Smith told Staton that if he could trim just $50,000 from each month’s spending—about 8 percent on average—he could open an additional dorm in the jail.

Staton has said he must use overtime because he’s scrambling to fill job vacancies, particularly in the jail. But commissioners say Staton has more control of his overtime spending than he lets on.

A breakdown of the numbers shows that at the end of the year, when the budget is tight, the sheriff’s office spends an average of $518,000 a month on overtime. But when a new budget year starts—as if it were payday—the monthly overtime jumps by an average of 43 percent.

“They’re able to shrink overtime down at the end of every year,” Kafoury says. “Obviously, Staton has the ability to control it.” 

Adds Smith: “I’m losing patience.”

Staton told commissioners at the May 22 meeting that, instead of opening another 57-bed jail dorm full-time to supplement the county’s 1,310-bed capacity, he’d like to open it only as needed. The department is working through the data to see how much that would cost, he says.

“We’re only paying for time when you open and close it,” Staton explains. 

County Chairman Jeff Cogen notes the county gave Staton’s office $888,000 last year to ramp up hiring. “I’m frustrated that the hiring process that we’ve amped up hasn’t gotten us there,” Cogen says. 

But Staton told commissioners his department has hired 24 new deputies and now has 15 vacancies, the lowest in years. But 76 deputies and sergeants are now eligible to retire, and the department estimates they’ll all be gone within five years.

Staton told the county commissioners he’s on the right path—and that he, not the county board, is accountable. 

“I alone,” Staton said, “am tasked with maintaining a constitutionally sound jail system.” 

 
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