Sheriff to Indian Trail: You are jeopardizing public safety
Editor's Note: Union County Sheriff Eddie Cathey sent this letter to Indian Trail Town Manager Joe Fivas Wednesday after reviewing terms demanded by the Indian Trail Town Council for a new four-year contract between the town and the Sheriff's Office:
I wanted to take a moment to reply to the paper work I received from you. I thought when you were in my office for about 2 hours we discussed what I thought were all of the concerns that you and the council had and you understood my position as the Sheriff. When you left I felt we had a positive meeting and you left stating you had a lot of work to do. When I received your attempt at a contract effort, I realized that the meeting was a waste of time for both of us. I began to read and realized that nothing in the document was what we covered in our discussion. As I read, it was clear that you have chosen to forsake the safety of the citizens of Indian Trail and move in a different direction. I am not sure in what direction, since I was not named in the paper work you left for me. It seems you are trying to contract with someone in county government for law enforcement services. Since I don't work for county government, and I was not mentioned in this document, I must assume you and the council are moving in some other direction.
I do feel responsible for the safety of the citizens of Indian Trail and since it is budget time for this agency (I am up against a time line,) my plans are as follows. I am putting in my budget the county portion of funding for all the officers working Indian Trail. If that is not what you and the council want please let me know as I can redirect that money to other areas and inform the county you have made other arrangements for law enforcement. I sincerely hope that is not what you are saying.
It does sadden me that the you and the council have moved in this direction, disregarding the safety of its citizens as well as the will of the people who live there. As you told me in our conversation, you have had no complaints or concerns from the citizens about the level of service from this agency. The only complaints or concerns are coming from several council members, not the public. You are jeopardizing public safety and creating an unnecessary tax increase for the people of Indian Trail. I can't understand whether this is simply a failure to understand the workings of government or is incompetence driven by a personal agenda.
I will try again to explain my position with the current contract. It is a service contract for leasing of a deputy to serve the needs of Indian Trail. You get a person and all the equipment to work safely and efficiently to serve the safety needs of the people. To arrive at a cost the county takes into account the cost of hiring a person, buying a vehicle, all equipment, salary, clothing, benefits and arrive at a bottom line cost. You as a council buy no equipment, own nothing and pay nothing but the bottom line cost. What that means is it is a simple contract for services. You have not bought one piece of equipment. If the cost for gas goes to $10 a gallon the county pays for it. If the cost goes to $ 1 a gallon you still pay the same cost. If an officer's computer dies, the county buys him a brand new one. If you want to own equipment such as surplus cars, all you need to do is let it be known you want a vehicle I will request the intergovernmental transfer of one at no cost. You have mentioned purchasing the cars yourself - If you choose to buy the cars or any equipment on the front end (no one has a problem with you doing that) and it will remain yours. However, understand the following: If you do buy on the front end it will be your car or equipment and you can assume all maintenance, liability and upkeep. If it is wrecked or broken it will be your responsibility for replacement. If your car is wrecked or down for repairs you can provide a spare car for the officer. As it is now, the county assumes all cost for everything including replacement if wrecked, spare equipment inside the vehicle if it is damaged and all for the same extremely low cost. If you want equipment you must buy on the front end.
In the last paragraph, I said that we were an extremely low cost. You need to remind council of the following: Huntersville's police budget, $9.2 million; Monroe's, $9 million; Mint Hill, $3 million + ; Stallings, $2 million + , while we only cost Indian Trail, $1.5 million. Remember, these are yearly operating budgets, not including startup costs. Some of your council members are so fixated on cars, so communicate this as a simple reference example: If you create your own police department, your 21 start-up vehicles will require you to spend over $500,000 (at $24,000 each.) If you want to put equipment in those cars, add another $15-20K per vehicle. You're now near a million dollars for just the rolling stock. Add your personnel, 20 officers at a minimum of $46,500 benefits ($35,000 starting salary plus another $11,500 in mandatory fringe benefits), you've added another million dollars and you haven't even put clothes on them, bought their personal equipment, or put gas in their cars. What are you thinking?
I will add these final points and move on. In your "draft contract," It seems as though you demand that I relinquish my Constitutional Office of Sheriff and start answering to a Town Manager. Sorry, that's not going to happen. If you want to talk about issues such as levels of service for the citizens and programs the town would like to put in place I would be glad to listen. Those services are already included as part of the current contract. Also, in regard to the information sharing that your council alleges it does not receive, need I remind you that Lt. Coble meets with you every Monday and provides you any information you want. He gives you a weekly and monthly report and has available a year-end report. I don't know what more you could want, but if you think of anything please let us know and I will see you get it. To avoid any future confusion, I will include council members in these reports, (which is all that you had to request in the first place.)
It is pretty apparent that your document is a cut and paste from somewhere that doesn't understand the Office of Sheriff as it exists under the North Carolina Constitution. As a reminder, the county does not hire, assign, retain, or discipline Sheriff's Office employees. That's my job under North Carolina law. You should also remember that the county has no authority in this operation other than determining the financial piece, and any future service contract must be between Indian Trail, Union County, AND the Office of Sheriff. This is pretty much laughable if it wasn't so sad.
I will be glad to meet with you or your council at any time to discuss any aspects of the contract or any other issue you might have. I would appreciate the opportunity to address these many issues face to face, rather than have my personnel harassed at public meetings over what are clearly operational issues within my control, and exposed to baseless accusations and innuendo hurled at my agency.
Sheriff Eddie Cathey