Nye County Sheriff Tony DeMeo and his attorney say several emails exchanged by officials in his office with the district attorney and other county officials prove there was no intent to violate Nevada law when the NCSO overspent its budget during the last fiscal year.
The Pahrump Valley Times was allowed to see the internal communications, which appear to show that top brass at the sheriff’s went out of their way to consult with county officials on the NCSO’s budget.
“We just believe that we couldn’t do what was requested of us by the DA. And that’s the position I take. These are the emails that show that,” DeMeo said.
DeMeo’s spending was referred to the Nevada Attorney General’s Office last October after the Board of County Commissioners voted 4-0 to have the sheriff prosecuted for over-spending his 2011-2012 fiscal year budget by more than $1 million.
The sheriff was called in for questioning on June 25, and two days later on June 27 the attorney general issued a letter to District Attorney Brian Kunzi informing him there was insufficient evidence to show the sheriff willfully overspent his budget.
Some of the emails DeMeo’s attorney, Adam Levine, submitted in the sheriff’s defense show DeMeo and Kunzi discussing a number of points of contention, including employee furloughs that were not part of the sheriff’s bargaining agreement.
The May 15, 2012 exchange was sometimes heated.
“I am genuinely angry that the attitude is and was that you could not furlough because public safety is an issue,” Kunzi wrote. “Nothing could be further from the truth. The NHP (Nevada Highway Patrol) run the same schedule as you and yet they furloughed. Furlough hours easily could have been accommodated on Wednesdays when you have shift overlap and not one less deputy would be available for work on the streets as on any other day. There is a difference between fighting for your office and acting like your office needs to be treated differently. I hope you appreciate the frustration I have that I must ask my employees to take a financial hit and then have the SO believe they are special and are entitled to benefits.”
Kunzi told the PVT in a recent email seeking comment that the Nye County Law Enforcement Administration contract was never an issue. And if the sheriff had felt that it was, he could have laid deputies off or made cuts to other areas to make up for the budget difference.
”If the sheriff felt like he could not furlough his deputies, which is a dubious claim, he could have laid off personnel to fit within the spending limits set by the board. The sheriff had many choices available to manage his budget as all the other elected officials were forced to do. I certainly was frustrated by an attitude that what is good for the goose is not good for the gander. You cannot accidentally overspend by $1.2 million,” he said.
DeMeo and his attorney argued, however, that although the DA was telling the sheriff he could furlough his employees, including deputies, to make up for budget concerns, that was not an option as it would have violated the NCLEA labor agreement.
“The governor can say ‘hey we’re furloughing all you people,’ and they can do that, but we can’t under the contract. If it’s not bargained or there’s no MOU negotiated through the unions, I can’t do that. They were asking why don’t you lay people off. I can’t do that. Yes you can. No I can’t, this is what the contract says, that’s the collective bargaining agreement, I don’t have the authority to do that,” DeMeo said.
Kunzi and other county officials took over negotiating labor agreements with NCLEA from top sheriff’s officials two years ago. The sheriff and his top officers say he is not privy to those negotiations until an agreement is made and approved by county commissioners.
“The only thing in my authority is, if someone shows up for work, making sure that their time is adequately covered and that’s it. I don’t have any authority over the pay, the county has that responsibility. My job is to administer the office if the budget is set properly,” the sheriff said Thursday.
NCLEA’s president, NCSO Det. David Boruchowitz, confirmed that the union’s 2011-2012 contract stated only juvenile probation officers, bailiffs and DA investigators were to be furloughed. The following year that was amended to state everyone was subject to furlough, and this year no members of the union are furloughing.
Another issue highlighted in the emails was a discussion between the NCSO and the county’s Comptroller Susan Paprocki about how the sheriff’s office could have spent more than $838,572 in the last 39 days of the 2011-2012 fiscal year.
On June 25, 2012, Paprocki sent an email to DeMeo and Asst. Sheriff Rick Marshall stating the NCSO had spent 102 percent of its budget with five days left in the fiscal year with one-and-a-half payrolls remaining.
“Susan, we do not understand how we can be over budget, when on 5/22/12 (39 days left) we were told that our budget stood at a balance of $838,572 How can we be over?” Marshall replied to the comptroller’s email.
Also included in that grouping of emails was a financial report generated on June 13, showing the NCSO had $242,024.69 in the budget with 17 days left in the fiscal year.
DeMeo said his department was never given an answer as to how they could have overspent the budget by more than $1 million, with funds left less than 20 days before the close of the fiscal year.
“I told them when you figure it out, let me know,” DeMeo said.
The county was in the middle of switching budgeting software platforms and officials have stated publicly that there were some issues over the switch.
Kunzi said he believes part of the over-expenditure came from an overlap day in the middle of each week where double the amount of deputies were working each shift.
“The prime question to ask is in this time of dwindling resources is why the sheriff continued to cover each 24-hour period with 30 man hours and double shifted everyone in the department on Wednesday, which is hardly the high crime period. Half the deputies were scheduled to work Sunday through Wednesday and the other half were scheduled Wednesday through Saturday. Every deputy on staff worked 14 hours every week while another deputy was also on duty. The math is not difficult. The sheriff claimed the double shifting on Wednesday was needed for training. If you kept half of the deputies on the street every Wednesday, each deputy would be free for 260 hours a year without impacting the resources put on the street,” the DA said.
“Training records would show how little of that 260 hours is actually used by the department. This wasteful scheduling structure was not disclosed to County Administration until late April of 2012 when reports showed the sheriff was likely to overspend for the third straight year. The sheriff stopped this practice this past year after the scheduling structure was made public, which indicates several hundred thousands of dollars could have been saved from the budget,” he added.
DeMeo pointed out in an email, however, it wasn’t overtime pay or salaries that caused the overage. It was contractual payments for other services that were to blame.
An expenditure report for July 1, 2011 through June 30, 2012 showed the NCSO had a surplus of $116,241.04 for salaries and wages for the department, meaning only 78.83 percent of the allocated funds for that specific expense had been used by the end of the fiscal year.
Though the email exchanges between DeMeo and Kunzi may have appeared heated as they discussed the NCSO budget, both men said the relationship between the county agencies has never been better.
“I have almost daily communications with the sheriff or his top administrators. I also believe the relationship between the DA’s office and the SO is better than it has been for several years. Like all families, we often have disagreements. While the sheriff and I may disagree about the importance of understanding that no elected official has control over how much budget we are given from the board and that we have a duty not spend more than what is given, our disagreement has not impacted our shared law enforcement efforts. We both will continue to work very hard at catching and prosecuting criminals despite this media circus,” Kunzi said.
DeMeo agreed, saying after this whole ordeal, the sheriff’s office has been working very closely with county commissioners, the DA’s office, the county manager and comptroller to ensure the NCSO remained on budget.
“A lot was learned during the last budget year. The sheriff’s office, the comptroller’s office, the county manager’s office and county commissioners have been working very closely together, we keep our doors open and we keep communication flowing and we’re getting a handle now on the EDEN (software) system works. We’re working very well with county commissioners and county management to make sure these issues don’t reoccur. We worked very well together this last budget year, I think we came in the black, and they helped us with that,” he said.