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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.

Bill to shed light on sheriffs' lucrative, low-profile accounts is a good start

The Allen County Sheriff's commissary fund generated about $2 million last year — much of it from inmates' purchase of toiletries and other items — and has a cash balance of about $800,000. State Sen. Liz Brown, R-Fort Wayne, has introduced a bill requiring more-detailed quarterly reports about how money in such funds throughout the state is spent.<br /> <br /> <br />
The Allen County Sheriff's commissary fund generated about $2 million last year — much of it from inmates' purchase of toiletries and other items — and has a cash balance of about $800,000. State Sen. Liz Brown, R-Fort Wayne, has introduced a bill requiring more-detailed quarterly reports about how money in such funds throughout the state is spent.


Liz Brown
Liz Brown
Dave Gladieux
Dave Gladieux
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.The Associated Press
Wednesday, January 18, 2017 09:01 pm
Even though it generates hundreds of thousands of dollars every year and has a current balance of about $800,000, the Allen County Sheriff's commissary fund has received little attention except for a few financial disputes between the department and County Council members. But with millions of dollars tucked away in such funds in counties statewide, State Sen. Liz Brown insists the normally low-profile accounts deserve more oversight and scrutiny — and has introduced a bill to do just that. It's a good start.

Allen County Sheriff Dave Gladieux and his peers are already required to file semiannual reports of receipts and disbursements in a form approved by the State Board of Accounts. Brown's bill would require quarterly statements that would include the name of each recipient, the amount disbursed and the product or service for which payment was made. "I don't want to create a burden (on sheriffs), and some are doing it already, but it's about transparency. These aren't tax dollars, but they are public funds," said Brown, R-Fort Wayne, who is confident passage would not limit sheriffs' ability to make spending decisions.

Most of the money in the Gladieux's fund is generated through county jail inmates' use of the telephone and purchase of toiletries and other items. Money in the fund cannot pay salaries but is used to pay for training, guns, bullets, body armor and other equipment, along with various perks for employees. That leaves more money in the county's general fund for use by other departments, Gladieux said. The fund generated about $2 million last year and disbursed nearly that much, but it's year-end balance has more than doubled since reaching nearly $342,000 in 2010 — in part because of increases in population of the jail, which currently holds more than 700 prisoners.

That kind of untapped pot has at times created tension between the sheriff and County Council members, especially in lean budget years. In 2013, for example, then-Sheriff Ken Fries requested $400,000 from the general fund for new vehicles but was told to use tap the commissary fund instead. This year, Gladieux said, council will provide about $300,000 for vehicles but another $150,000 will come from the commissary account, which has at times subsidized soaring inmate health-care costs and could provide about $100,000 toward development of Gladieux's proposed $1.2 million canine training facility on Adams Center Road.

Although Brown has no concerns about the use or transparency of Allen County's fund, a glance at the most recent report submitted at the end of June 2016 reveals plenty of room for improvement. The names of recipients are listed along with amounts and dates, but the information has little value because it lacks an explanation of the goods or services involved.

$5,700 for Ceruti's catering last January? An employee banquet, explained Chief Deputy J. Charles Edwards. $800 for Michael's Photography? Employee portraits. Disbursements to Kroger? Edwards didn't remember. Even though commissary funds are reviewed by the State Board of Accounts, they are not subject to the budget authority of the county council or oversight by the auditor. Allen County Interim Auditor Nick Jordan said his office would require more-detailed billing documents in order to approve payment.

None of this is meant to imply any misuse of funds in Allen County's account. As I said, Brown seems satisfied and Gladieux says he has "nothing to hide."

But increased transparency is the best guarantor of that, and by filling the information gaps Brown's bill would do just that.  The next logical step would be to make that information more readily available to the public, as campaign-finance reports are now. Who knows? Maybe some of the same names will appear on both.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at kleininger@news-sentinel.com or call him at 461-8355.

 

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