(To listen to the audio of this blog post, use the purple play button.)
· Unintended Consequences ·
Previously, in Episode 1 (https://jimpotterauthor.com/cottonwood-county-kansas/), Tom Jennings was perusing a Facebook post with its many threads. The messages were overwhelmingly critical of the Cottonwood County Commissioners for considering cutting overtime pay for deputy sheriffs.
Tom’s phone played music and vibrated. A county commissioner was returning his phone call.
“Tom Jennings, may I help you?”
“This is County Commissioner Guy Ankerholz returning your phone call.”
“Yes, thank you for your prompt response. I called to see where you stand on the recent controversy about cutting back overtime pay for deputies. I’ll tell you my view after I hear yours.”
“The overtime needs to be under control. I’m not going to increase it to 82 hours but it’s on the table anytime if it’s not restrained. I don’t want to micromanage but we can change the budget.”
“Okay,” Jennings said, “I previously worked in the Cottonwood County jail for three years so I’m bias, but I also have experience.
“When I worked in the jail, I never wanted overtime. I wanted to be home with my family. But officers had to work a lot of days off because of emergencies, staff shortages, illness, and training. It’s not fair of you commissioners to portray the deputies who work a lot of overtime as the bad guys. They aren’t the bad guys. They’re making personal sacrifices and giving up family time to help the department. Of course they get paid for the extra duty.
“I don’t understand why you’re wasting time to fix something that’s not broken when there are so many other things to improve. Businesses are leaving the county and the population is shrinking. Drug addicts and dealers are increasingly bold. We’ve got a drug house on our road and I know that the Sheriff’s Office doesn’t have time to do anything about it.
“We need to maintain our professional law enforcement. When you start cutting benefits then you’re making it more difficult to keep and attract the best people. Officers are looking for your support, not a hostile work environment.”
“There’s just so much money,” Ankerholz interjected. “We have three choices: raise taxes, limit the services, or increase the assets.”
“What does increase the assets mean?” asked Jennings.
“Increase the tax base.”
“Oh, okay,” continued Jennings. “But I’m calling about a department that is under budget. Even if your lack of support were to affect just a few officers, it would have a detrimental snowball effect. When an officer feels unappreciated or attacked then it can influence job satisfaction which can impact quality of work and attendance. Ultimately, it can result in employee turnover.
“Maybe you’ve heard of the term ‘do no harm’ or ‘unintended consequences.’ If just one deputy leaves the county for another law enforcement agency with better benefits, that has a tremendous effect.
“One less person working in the jail, patrol, or the detective division means officers off-duty will need to be called in to work more shifts. If you don’t call them in, then everyone is less safe and the work doesn’t get done.
“You don’t just hire a person off the streets and they become a professional officer.
“There are job announcements, testing, background checks, interviews, properly fit uniforms, months of training at the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center, months of longer in-house training by the Sheriff’s Office. All this costs extra time, effort, and money while taking away from doing the intended job—protecting and serving the public.
“When the County Commission focuses on taking away employee benefits in order to save money, it’s shortsighted. The medical profession has the term, ‘do no harm.’ Please consider that approach as you consider your next step on this issue.
“Your intentions may be good or they may be due to pressure tactics from Commissioner Tisher. Please stand up and make your own decision on this.”
“I make up my own mind on things,” said Ankerholz.
“Good, because Tither has a reputation for thinking she’s the leader of the band even when there’s no one following her.”
“I’ve researched this,” Ankerholz added. “The jail’s overtime is huge. There needs to be a more efficient operation.”
“You may intend to save money,” said Jennings, “but the unintended consequences can hurt the county in hiring and keeping a professional workforce. It could cost more in overtime, not less.
“Sadly, you’re spending energy on a perceived problem instead of upgrading the workforce so the public can be better served.”
“Like I said,” Ankerholz responded, “I’m not for changing the overtime right now.”
“That’s not reassuring,” Jennings responded. “You sound like the president who is for something on Monday and against it on Tuesday.”
“The Sheriff’s Office is under budget but the overtime is out of control,” Ankerholz restated.
Well, thanks for listening. Sorry to have wasted your time.”
“You haven’t wasted my time. I don’t hear from people enough,” Ankerholz concluded.
“Okay, thanks for listening,” Jennings repeated, as he ended the conversation.
Jennings knew he should cut the commissioners some slack; they were probably doing their best. They just didn’t get it. None of them had ever been a commissioned law enforcement officer, but they had convinced themselves that they knew better than the sheriff–a career lawman elected by the people–how to do his job.
Jennings had hoped for reassurance. Instead, the county commissioner acted like Pete Rose, a former major league baseball all-star, hedging his gambling bets. At least Rose fought for his team. Jennings felt like Ankerholz might bolt and run at any moment.
The former jailer imagined the commissioner as a baseball player changing teams—and uniforms—during a seventh inning stretch. In a tough situation, could officers rely on this guy to go to bat for them?
While Ankerholz was unwilling to firmly support law enforcement, deputies would continue to risk their lives every shift of every day for the public, including for Ankerholz and his family.
Until next time, happy writing and reading!