The following is a memo from Sheriff Ernie Coleman to Delma Blinson.
To: Delma Blinson, hiding behind the Beaufort Observer
From: Sheriff Ernie Coleman
Ref: Honest men are dangerous
You ought to write for Hillary Clinton! This article is not fact free, but it is not true. You are a false witness in this story.
First, the budget process isn't done by just asking for an amount of money. Funds are appropriated into specific line items (salaries, equipment, training, etc...). You know that, but you are just trying to fool the public into thinking that this is something that it is not. The budget for the Sheriff's Office is negotiated in more specific detail than that of the schools. We have to argue about everything from the amount of cars we can replace to the amount of pens we can buy, so to say that we had enough money for courthouse security is a lie of ignorance at best and an outright lie at worst. But what is a little lie for the Beaufort Observer?
Second, you say that we had enough money to fund the courthouse security
but then you said we overspent our budget by $350,000, which is it? Now cover your ears and close your eyes because here comes some honesty, and that's dangerous, right? The payroll (salaries) line for the Sheriff's Office (Sheriff, Jail, 911 Center) was underfunded in the 2016 budget by $662,911 (approximately). That number is provided to the board of commissioners by the Finance Office. When it was all said and done, the Finance Office had to move close to $250,000 from the general fund to fix the error. The other portion of the overall variance for the 2016 budget was an approximate $105,000 budget surplus in the Sheriff's Budget. So it is true that the budget showed an additional $350,000 in funds for the year, but the additional appropriation could have been up to $662,911 if we spent all of the funds that were appropriated by the board of commissioners. I am not a mathematician or an accountant but $662,911 minus $250,000 that the Finance Office moved to cover the error leaves $412,911 that would have been the actual surplus if you just go by the numbers. I have been and will continue to be a good steward of the people's money. I will continue to find and fix the mistakes made by the governing board (BOC) to the betterment of Beaufort County.
To reply to your comment you made, "That is the third time he has refused to provide requested information." Is that in total from December 1st, 2014? If that is true, I can't believe that there has only been three instances where you have asked a question that did not warrant a response. If you are honest, you will let people know that when the request is of a matter of public record you have gotten a reply. I have not responded to loaded questions in which you are obviously not interested in the truth, you just want to stir up controversy. The last two stories that you have posted about the Sheriff's Office show your true colors. The Beaufort Observer is behaving like a hypocritical brood of vipers! Why would we choose to interact with a group that behaves like it has?
Finally, your statement, "In this instance our "agenda" was to let the public know that what an elected official said was not true." I reply to that statement by saying, just because you don't understand or know what someone is talking about doesn't mean that they are not telling the truth. Any of the information that I have provided in this reply can be confirmed with the county office and recordings of open meetings of the board of commissioners. That goes for the last article as well. Before the election in 2014 you called me and told me that you had been in politics for a long time and that you had the political pulse of Beaufort County and that I needed to come on board with your way of thinking or that I would not get elected. You said that your people would not vote for my opponent, however, they would abstain for voting for me, and that is how I would end up losing. You probably don't remember my response, so I'll remind you. I told you that I appreciated your concern, but that I would not be bought, if I run and lose I would still be able to sleep at night knowing that I stayed true to myself, my beliefs, and did not sell out. You did not support me in my last election and I expect you will not support me in the future no matter how conservative and/ or effective I am as sheriff.
I have also put a response to each of your questions and statements below.
In reviewing the tentative (subject to revisions) End of Year Financial reports, several questions have arisen about the Sheriff's budgets. Before we publish our report on this we would offer you the opportunity to have an explanation included in what we publish. Our questions are:
1. The original budget was $4,628,184. The amount actually spent was $4,874,180.42. Why the overspending?
The overall budget number was affected negatively by a budget amendment that was needed to fix an error in payroll spending. The payroll numbers are provided by the finance office for all county funded agencies.
2. The original budget for salaries was $2,146,174 and the actual expenditures were $2,388,473.64. Why this overspending?
See number 1. We did a pretty thorough presentation on these findings at the budget workshop but I don't think you were there. As you know, you can get a copy of the workshop if you would like to review the presentation.
3. The original budget for Travel-Fuel was $168,000 but only $74,875 was actually spent. Why the large difference?
Fuel prices stayed relatively low and steady throughout the year.
4. The Sheriff told the BOC that the reason he would not provide security for the Courthouse was that the board did not appropriate enough money to equip the four positions they "offered" him for Courthouse security.
Yet there was $333,880 appropriated for "vehicles" and $376,293.79 actually spent and the EOY actual expenditures for "uniforms" were $6,076.55 less than appropriated and "Equipment Purchase" was only about half of what the board appropriated?
Number 4 has a lot of different issues wrapped up into it. First, salaries (alone) were initially put into the budget. When I questioned the appropriation I was told that courthouse security did not need vehicles. The talks broke down quickly after that. I was and still am adamant about the fact that I hire deputies, not civilian security. The commissioners then began to tell me what we needed and what we would get. One commissioner was overheard telling another that they (commissioners) would force the Sheriff into doing courthouse security with whatever they decided to give him. I could not and still do not trust the board of commissioners to do the right thing for my office and the people of Beaufort County. I repeatedly told the commissioners that I would not take on the responsibility unless it had the support of the board of commissioners as evidenced by fully funding the initiative. That never happened.
We were and still are in need of newer, safer, more reliable patrol vehicles. I recognize that in reference to patrol vehicles and other infrastructure needs that I need to convince the board of commissioners that we need to have an actual vehicle replacement plan that makes sense, not just buying a couple of vehicles each year because that is what we have done in the past. Through negotiation and moving funds around within our own budget we purchased 9 vehicles within the normal purchasing cycle in year 2016. We then purchased an additional vehicle late in the year using insurance funds and proceeds from the sale of surplus vehicles. The negotiations with the board of commissioners addressed the needs of our current staffing levels, they were not affected by the courthouse security decision. The board of commissioners had already voted to put civilian security in by that time. That additional purchase created the variance in the capital outlay vehicle line.
5. Minutes of the BOC meetings indicate several travel approvals. Where do the expenditures for "out of county" travel show in the Expenditures?
The Sheriff's Office travel/ training funds came out of the line for training and schools cost in 2016. This line also funded travel reimbursements for all of the out of county transports that we do as well.
6. Is money transferred between the three budgets you control without BOC approval?
The county commissioners create the policies that the County Manager, Finance Officer, and agencies funded by the county abide by. The simple answer to your question is yes. The more complex answer is that there are times that money can be moved without having BOC approval. The County Manager or Finance Officer would be a better source of that information than I. I will say that the County Manager, Finance Officer and her employees and the Sheriff's Office work together on a regular basis to make sure purchases and spending are within policy.
The conclusion we draw from this is that there was ample money appropriated by the BOC to provide Courthouse security.
Do you disagree with that conclusion? Yes, the incident that occurred at the courthouse on 8/15/16 illustrates the problem that I stated in the meeting when the board of commissioners voted to install civilian security. There is a gap of service between what the civilian security can do and what a sworn law enforcement officer can do. Civilian security will always need sworn law enforcement assistance to handle a serious or violent situation, security uniforms are not always a deterrent. During those situations, they need the assistance immediately, not minutes after. Right now, that is not always an option. My bailiffs will help when they can, just like they did on August 15th, 2016, but if they are running a court at the time of an incident that occurs at the entranceway of the building then they cannot leave the courtroom to assist. The board of commissioners have not addressed that gap in service with funding. The commissioners know that what they have funded is not enough to secure anything, much less a courthouse. Recently, it has come to light that there has been talks about adding at least two sworn law enforcement officers to the courthouse security to address the obvious gap in service. This would add another $100,000 (approximately) to the $160,000 that they are already going to pay yearly. $260,000 is approximately $60,000 more per year than what it would cost if the Sheriff's Office took care of all of the security needs. The $60,000 would have almost covered the entire cost of a vehicle for the additional deputies and would have been a onetime cost. I as the Sheriff, and a taxpayer will not be a party to such an egregious waste of the people's money. They also cannot honestly blame me for their mismanagement, but that hasn't slowed them down from trying.
If money was available, what was the actual reason the Sheriff refused to take responsibility for Courthouse security?
We knew the 2016 budget was going to be tight and we knew early on about the mistake in payroll. I instructed the Chief Deputy to keep our purchases to essentials only. We put in self-induced cuts within our budget to save money wherever we could. After all of the issues that were taken care of within the 2016 budget cycle: replacing unsafe patrol vehicles, making major repairs and upgrades in the jail, and assisting with funding the payroll line for our own employees after a funding error was found, we were able to have an overall budget surplus of over $100,000 over our three budgets. If anyone would like to complain or yell "poor management" when we are able to save county tax dollars then so be it. To your question about available money, the board of commissioners did not address the matter further in the budget when they decided to go with civilian security.
- Sheriff Ernie Coleman
- Beaufort County Sheriff's Office