The Butler County sheriff and prosecutor traded pointed remarks on Monday as the debate continued over the sheriff’s office’s attempt to take over the county’s Emergency Management Agency.
Prosecutor Mike Gmoser told the county commissioners that Sheriff Richard Jones’ plan is flawed and he is trying “to save (the sheriff) from himself,” and Jones, when contacted by the Journal-News for comment said that, “I believe this was all prejudged before this.”
Gmoser told the county commissioners Monday they should not allow the takeover.
“(The state bill) and the sheriff’s proposal are fatally flawed in multiple ways,” Gmoser wrote. “The bill itself is unconstitutional. The bill limited any potential contract with the sheriff to four years. It eliminated proportional representation, created conflicts of interest for the sheriff and left the burden of funding entirely upon the commissioners.”
Gmoser said there are multiple issues in the law and the sheriff’s proposal:
• Because the bill is specific about the size of the county that is allowed to transfer power to the sheriff, it applies only to Butler County and possibly Stark County, which he said is unconstitutional.
• The law limits the sheriff’s power to four years and doesn’t provide for extensions of the contract between the commissioners and the sheriff.
• Many of the jurisdictions in the county that provide half the EMA’s $400,000 budget would lose their voice in EMA decisions. The sheriff proposed an “advisory board” must smaller than the EMA board.
• Jones would have a conflict of interest as head of two agencies where grant money and allocation of funds are concerned.
“It is naive and illogical to consider that the sheriff with his countywide position of power would necessarily be subservient to any board with a ‘final say’ regarding allocation of assets that he also competes for as sheriff,” Gmoser wrote. “Those decisions could potentially be to the detriment of other agencies and areas outside of the sheriff’s primary responsibility.”
“What I’m saying here to the sheriff is I need to save him from himself,” Gmoser told the commissioners. “His desire to have this EMA is a stretch and a danger to him, as much as to you and as much as it is to the county.”
Contacted later by the Journal-News, Jones replied.
“Many times I’ve tried to look at the prosecutor and tried to save him from himself and still do and look out for his well-being,” Jones said. “I was hoping they would get an AG’s opinion, the opinion would have been totally different. But I can’t get that done through the prosecutor. I believe this was all prejudged before this. Again, I’ve been working on this for 10 years and I’m not done.”
Gmoser quoted from an attorney general’s opinion and the Supreme Court in his opinion to bolster his position and scoffed at the suggestion he should have sought another AG ruling.
“I don’t need the attorney general’s opinion on grade school law, on elementary 101 contract law,” he said. “I don’t need an attorney general’s opinion on what the Supreme Court has already decided. Does the sheriff think somehow I’m going to get the fix in with the attorney general? If he does, he’s dead wrong.”
Jones said Gmoser’s opinion gave him a “template” he can take to the legislature to make a new law that will pass constitutional muster. He said he had a feeling Gmoser would recommend against his takeover so he has been working for the past month to cure any defects in the law.
Gmoser gave his confidential opinion to the commissioners Sept. 9, and he asked them to make it public Monday. Commissioners Don Dixon and T.C. Rogers told the Journal-News they will follow their attorney’s advice against an EMA takeover. Commissioner Cindy Carpenter, who openly supported the takeover, could not be reached for comment.
Dixon said both Jones and his operation and the Butler County EMA are well-regarded statewide and beyond, so he hopes everyone can come together to make emergency management here even better. He noted there has been a breakdown in communications between the parties in this issue and he plans to work to close the divide.
“They both have a good record, a great record really, so if you put those two together, then you’ve got the best of the best,” Dixon said. “We really don’t need the law changed to achieve what we need to achieve here. It’s not a matter of who controls it, it’s a matter of how do we develop the best services for our residents?”
EMA Director Matt Haverkos said he believes the two sides can improve how they work together.
“I hope so, I don’t know anybody that can’t, I mean it’s not like people were drawing a line in the sand so to speak,” Haverkos said. “I think it was just, ‘Can we discuss this and come to some sort of mutually beneficial solution?’ I don’t think there’s anybody going to be like I’m done, I’m outta here.”
Jones has been trying to overtake EMA for more than a decade, but until recently, the commissioners couldn’t consider it because it was prohibited by state law. The takeover became legal after State Sen. Bill Coley, R-Liberty Twp., inserted a provision in the state’s transportation bill that allows the command change.
Coley told the Journal-News he doesn’t believe the bill is unconstitutional because “you’re allowed to do pilot programs, and that’s how we test things.”
Thank you for reading the Journal-News and for supporting local journalism. Subscribers: log in for access to your daily ePaper and premium newsletters.
Thank you for supporting in-depth local journalism with your subscription to the Journal-News. Get more news when you want it with email newsletters just for subscribers. Sign up here.