Sunday, April 20, 2003
The sheriff wants more flexibility in staffing.
By BOB JACKSON
VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Mahoning County officials are working on a plan that will keep the county courthouse secure without straining the sheriff department's ranks.
"We're looking for flexibility," said Sheriff Randall Wellington. "We're trying to get away from such a rigid schedule."
Common pleas court judges have ordered the sheriff to ensure there are at least 21 deputies in the courthouse at all times. They guard the front entrance, all courtrooms and patrol all the floors.
But budget cuts forced the sheriff to lay off more than 50 deputies last month, leaving him short-handed for staffing the jail and patrolling rural areas. He wants to reduce the number of deputies assigned to the courthouse so more are available for other duties.
Judge James C. Evans said judges want to work with the sheriff to ease his staffing problems as much as possible. That's why he and Judge Timothy P. Maloney of probate court met this week to discuss the situation with Wellington, Maj. Michael Budd and Gary Kubic, county administrator.
Judges Evans and Maloney represent the other judges in discussing security matters.
Judge Evans said there are certain days when the volume of traffic entering the building is higher than normal. Extra security is needed during those times, especially at the front door where visitors are required to walk through a metal detector.
But there are other days, when judges are away and their courtrooms are not in session, that the building could be secured with fewer deputies, he said.
"Somehow we've got to coordinate our courthouse schedules a little bit better," he said.
Wellington is working on a proposal that will allow a more fluid setup than the one in place. He's to present it next week to judges Maloney and Evans, who will in turn discuss it with the other six common pleas judges.
"We just want them to put something down on paper for us to look at and consider," Judge Evans said.
A 1993 study by a security firm determined there should be 21 deputies in the courthouse during business hours.
Wellington has tried for some three years to get judges to back off their demand for 21 deputies, asking them for leeway to adjust the number based on the need. Judges, though, have been reluctant to change.
A performance audit of county government, released in January 2002 by the state auditor's office, suggested that the county could save more than $300,000 a year by reducing the courthouse security staff to 13.
Shortly after that report was released, however, there were two large courtroom fights that required several deputies to restore order. Judges said then that they didn't want to reduce security.