EDITORIAL: Courthouse Fantasies, Part Two

Read Part One

So they passed through the Palace gates and were led into a big room with a green carpet and lovely green furniture set with emeralds. The soldier made them all wipe their feet upon a green mat before entering this room, and when they were seated he said, politely,

“Please make yourselves comfortable while I go to the door of the Throne Room and tell Oz you are here.”

They had to wait a long time before the soldier returned. When, at last, he came back, Dorothy asked,

“Have you seen Oz?”

“Oh, no,” returned the soldier; “I have never seen him. But I spoke to him as he sat behind his screen, and gave him your message. He says he will grant you an audience, if you so desire; but each one of you must enter his presence alone, and he will admit but one each day.

“Therefore, as you must remain in the Palace for several days, I will have you shown to rooms where you may rest in comfort after your journey.”

Archuleta County Commissioners Steve Wadley, Ronnie Maez and Michael Whiting held their second meeting of the day — the ‘regular meeting’ of January 2, 2018 — beginning at 1:30pm.

Near the conclusion of that meeting, Sheriff Rich Valdez stood at the podium, facing the three men who, in a sense, control his future, and the future of his governmental department.

Sheriff Valdez:

“I appreciate the opportunity to speak. And I know we’ve talked about this in the past, and I asked to speak with you guys today specifically regarding our request for funding, for housing outside the Courthouse.”

The Sheriff explained that he and his staff had been looking at specific buildings that “are not going to meet our needs 100 percent, but they will meet our needs temporarily, up until we decide if we’re going to get us a new building built.”

In April 2015, the Sheriff abandoned the County Jail inside the County Courthouse on San Juan Street (Highway 160) in downtown Pagosa, following a serious roof leak. In September 2017, he moved the rest of his operations out of the Courthouse, and established temporary offices in a small building on Piedra Road adjacent to the airport. His justification for abandoning his Courthouse offices centers on claims that the air quality inside the Courthouse is toxic.

At the January 2, 2018 BOCC meeting, the Sheriff mentioned three buildings that might be suitable for “temporary” accommodations. The cost of leasing varies with the size of the space, of course, and we came to understand that the total price for housing the Sheriff in a “temporary” location — including moving expenses and building renovations — might cost the taxpayers $120,000 or so. Just a ‘back of the napkin’ estimate.

Although Sheriff Valdez was elected by the voters in 2014 to supervise law enforcement services for the unincorporated areas of Archuleta County — the areas outside the Town of Pagosa Springs — his legal authority does not provide him with an independent flow of taxpayer revenues to fund his department’s operations. The Sheriff’s annual budget is part of a larger Archuleta County budget, and that larger, County-wide budget is controlled by the three County Commissioners, also elected by the voters.

If the Sheriff wants more money than was allocated to his department for 2018, he pretty much has to go begging to the BOCC. And that’s what he was doing on January 2.

The County budget for 2018 was approved in December, and the Sheriff was allocated…

… Well, good question. How much money was the Sheriff allocated for 2018? The County Administration did not publish a “voter-friendly” version of the budget this year prior to budget approval, so anyone interested in learning the details of the County’s 2018 financial picture gets to work with a 189-page document.

From what I can discern, the Sheriff’s expenditures for 2017 ran to about $3.03 million. (That included $1.1 million for “Detention” even though the Sheriff was not operating a detention center.)

For 2018, the total expenditures for the Sheriff’s Office look to be around $2.95 million. About $80,000 less than was budgeted for last year.

Given that information, a request by the Sheriff for an additional $120,000 to pay for building rent might not seem overly extravagant.

But then we have to problem of interpreting “science.”

Sheriff Valdez:

“I have a responsibility, as an elected official, to my staff — and to the citizens and to the inmates, as well. For the record, there’s no government immunity for negligence, in the operation of a jail. If we know there’s an issue, it’s going to come back on us. And I can’t go in that direction. You have the responsibility to provide a safe jail, and we’re trying to find any reasonable means to keep from going over to Durango.

“I know you guys have been saying publicly that there’s nothing wrong with the building. But we’ve got testing. It’s there. We’ve got four different tests. Three of four show that there’s something wrong with the environment in the Courthouse. And I hope you guys take a real hard look at that and take that into consideration.”

I’ve taken the time to read the reports on the “four different tests” — and we’ve offered those reports here in the Daily Post as downloads. Many claims have been made in the reports, and some of the claims purport to be supported by scientific evidence. But for the life of me, I cannot find, anywhere in any of the reports, definitive, scientific evidence of an environmental hazard that exceeds the limits imposed on workplaces by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Apparently, Sheriff Valdez has been able to discover facts in those reports that I have not been able to find.

We seem to live, lately, in a world of “alternative facts.”

Sheriff Valdez continued:

“I don’t know. I just feel like I’m constantly being made the bad guy, here in this situation, when in actuality I’m doing everything I can to protect the County. I have a responsibility to protect the County. When I have employees and inmates, that the potential liability could some back on the County, I’m stepping up to protect them on that part. And I don’t feel like I’m being supported either.

“I feel like we’re not on the same page. And we need to work to get back on the same page.”

In my experience, there are three basic ways to get onto the same page. One is to convince the other guy that your page is the correct page. Another is to recognize that the other guy’s page is the correct page. And the third, is to both agree to use a new page somewhere in the middle of the book.

Read Part Three…

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Bill Hudson

Bill Hudson founded the Pagosa Daily Post in 2004 in hopes of making a decent living writing about local politics. The hope remains.