Jackson County legislators had lots of questions for Sheriff Darryl Forte, given that he just took over the troubled downtown jail.
But at a budget hearing Tuesday they got few answers since the sheriff was absent for much of the meeting. A sheriff's office spokesman said Forte was in a deposition during the hearing, but he did show up toward the end. He sent civilian jail administrators in his place.
“I think the people who run it should be here,” said Legislator Crystal Williams, obviously frustrated with the sheriff. “I don’t even know how all of this is going to intersect, and not a soul has talked to me about it since this vote happened in November."
Voters approved a charter change in the last election that moved jail administration from the county executive to the sheriff.
“There’s so much that we don’t know," said Legislative Chair Theresa Galvin. "So many questions that are unanswered because we don’t know how this is really going to look.”
Legislator Tony Miller wanted to know whether sheriff deputies could work in the jail. “Now that the sheriff’s office runs this department, I would be very interested in hearing about having POST (Peace Officer Standards and Training) certified deputies on the floors with other employees or integrating it somehow.”
Despite the discussion over whether Forte will make major changes to the jail, there was a budget presentation. But legislators had concerns about that, too.
The budget calls for an increase of just over one percent from last year. However, it also calls for an almost 21 percent reduction in staff, according to jail administrators at the hearing.
That cut is due mostly to a decision by the county to pull out of an agreement with Kansas City to hold city detainees at the jail. The county said it needed more money per detainee to house detainees and "in no way involves any concerns about the professionalism and positive partnership the County has experienced with KCMO and KCPD," according to a letter from the county sent last June.
The city pays the county about $5 million a year.
That deal ends on June 17. But some legislators don't want to lose that income. “We definitely want to work with the city and not just assume that on June 17 we don’t have the city there anymore. Because it will be bad,” said Legislator Dan Tarwater.
“We don’t know what we don’t know,” said newly elected Legislator Jeanie Lauer. “I think it would not be prudent to put major cuts into this without knowing what the plan is.”
Forte did show up near the end of the meeting but did not answer questions, according to Miller. He said the legislature may have another hearing on the jail before it must approve a budget by the end of the month.