Grand jury rips sheriff
Sheriff Hal Barker used an inmate to move furniture at his house, approved sick leave for an undersheriff who wasn’t sick and showed favoritism by promoting unqualified people, according to a report released Thursday by the El Dorado County Grand Jury.
In a faxed response, Barker “emphatically” denied using an inmate to perform work at his home.
“I did take a trustee to my house to load a table onto a truck so that it could be taken to the sheriff’s office and used as a conference table, but I have never used a trustee to perform work on my property,” Barker wrote. “That would be inappropriate.”
Barker, who would not comment directly on the report, is required to respond within 90 days. “I am writing my response as we speak,” he said Thursday.
After interviewing Barker and the inmate involved, the Grand Jury concluded, “The sheriff should follow county ordinances with regard to the performance of inmate labor.” It made no further recommendation.
But the Grand Jury had much more to say on the topics of personnel assignments and misuse of sick leave.
Former Undersheriff Ed Newman was paid for 200 hours of sick leave from Jan. 28, 2000, to his retirement May 5, 2000, the Grand Jury reported, even though “he was not sick during this period” and thus not entitled to be paid. Newman was properly paid for 504 hours of sick leave upon his retirement, the report states, although it did not mention any officers by name.
The Grand Jury recommended that sick leave regulations be clarified. It also said, “The sheriff should enforce the sick leave regulations uniformly.”
Barker appointed Capt. Ernie Hillman acting undersheriff in February 2000 while Newman was still out on sick leave. The report says that officer continued drawing undersheriff’s pay until this March, five months after Barker appointed Jeff Neves as the permanent undersheriff in October. “One of the effects of this compensation was to increase retirement benefits for the employee,” the report states.
“There is no legal basis for the continued compensation of employees for work, in a higher classification, which those employees no longer perform,” the Grand Jury wrote. “That situation would cause the county to expend funds for work it did not receive, and thus would constitute a misuse of public funds.”
The Grand Jury said the Board of Supervisors should revise county policies to require written authorization for temporary positions.
Acting on a separate complaint, the Grand Jury found that the Sheriff’s Department, with knowledge of the Human Resources Department and in “direct violation” of personnel policies, promoted a deputy to lieutenant who did not meet the minimum standards.
“The promotion of personnel not meeting the minimum qualifications is a violation of policies and procedures, suggests favoritism, and has a negative impact on department morale,” the report states.
Beyond the Sheriff’s Department, the report found that the Human Resources Department does not verify applicants’ qualifications for any county job. The Grand Jury recommended that Human Resources be made “responsible and accountable” for all county personnel actions.
In his written response, Barker said he was “appreciative” of the Grand Jury’s comments, but “there are so many rules when it comes to personnel issues that it is sometimes difficult to dot every ‘i’ and cross every ‘t.’
“The Grand Jury has pointed out a couple of areas where the sheriff’s office needs to do better and I intend to see that that happens,” Barker wrote.
The report comes eight months before the March 5 election for sheriff. Besides Barker, sheriff’s Sgt. Larry Hennick has declared his candidacy.
On June 10, the El Dorado County Deputy Sheriff’s Association endorsed Hennick. Sgt. Doug Pullen, DSA president, said the Grand Jury report discloses favoritism within the Sheriff’s Department.
“If I were to take an inmate worker home doing that stuff at my house I would be fired. On the sick time, we’d be written up for sick-time abuse,” Pullen said. “There appears to be different set of standards for certain people. We need to have a qualification system based on ability and merit, not favoritism.”
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