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Commissioner, sheriff argue at county meeting

July 18, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A discussion Thursday between a Berkeley County Commissioner and Sheriff Randy Smith over salary issues, taxpayer money and the commission's meeting agenda was decibels away from becoming a shouting match.

"It seems like you're the king and I'm the court jester," Smith told County Commission President Howard Strauss at one point.

That comment resulted from an argument over the nature of the commission's agenda. For more than two years, Smith has been on the agenda under the broad title of "Update on law enforcement activities."

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Strauss on Thursday called that too vague and said Smith must be more specific about what he wants to discuss. Otherwise, he said, Smith was doing nothing more than holding "press conferences" every week on issues of which the commission had not been apprised.

Anything can happen between Monday - when the agenda is prepared - and the commissioners' weekly Thursday morning meeting, Smith argued. The broad heading is needed to keep the commission informed of police matters, he said.

Strauss, though, called it "a slap in the face" and "poor planning" to discuss issues not on the agenda.

Smith said that Strauss broke his own rule when he asked several questions about topics that were not listed on the agenda.

"What makes you different from me as an elected official?" Smith said.

Strauss countered that the sheriff did not have to answer the questions.

Before letting the issue go, Smith asked the county's attorney to look into the matter.

The two also argued over whether taxes should be increased to fund the sheriff's department - an idea first voiced several weeks ago by Strauss.

When the sheriff asked that his budget be increased by $1 million, he was telling the taxpayers that he wanted personal property taxes to be increased by 10 percent, Strauss said.

Smith countered that he did not ask for $1 million and never has mentioned raising taxes.

"Then I mentioned it," Strauss conceded.

The sheriff's department received $272,000 more in its budget this fiscal year than last year, but much of that will be spent on overtime expenses, cell phones and two-step salary increases awarded to every county employee in every department, County Administrator Deborah Hammond said.

Smith said he will have little, if any, money to buy new equipment, such as cars.

Even with the raises, pay for deputies still is several thousand dollars below that offered in nearby agencies and states, Smith repeatedly has said.

County-issued cell phones should be returned and the money that is saved should be dispersed to the deputies in the form of raises or more equipment, Smith suggested.

Until problems with the county's radio system are fixed, deputies should keep the cell phones, Strauss said.

During the discussion, Commissioner Steve Teufel said little. Commissioner John Wright was absent from the meeting.

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