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Third Full-Time Jailer Approved

By Staff | Jan 14, 2010

Palo Alto County Supervisors approved the hiring of a third full-time jailer for the county’s jail during a meeting Tuesday. The request by Palo Alto County Sheriff Dennis Goeders was approved following a discussion at the weekly board meeting Jan. 12.

The sheriff had approached the supervisors late last year about the possibility of adding a third full-time jailer to the jail staff, citing the degree of liability as one of the driving considerations for the action. On Tuesday, the issue came to a head.

“I’m not making this request out of convenience to me, the sheriff’s office or the jail,” Goeders told the supervisors. “This is a real liability to the county and the taxpayers.”

According to the sheriff, operating the jail requires 21 shifts per week, of which, the two full-time jailers fill 10. That leaves 11 shifts to be filled by part-time jailers.

“Jailers are total hands-on for their entire shift,” Goeders explained. “That inmate’s life is controlled completely by the jailer. It can get very intense because some of these people in jail have been there before and they know the system and how it works. They’ll look for anything to exploit a situation, and that’s where liability comes in.”

Goeders noted that at the present time, there are five convicted felons in the local jail, waiting to be sentenced to prison. “We’re seeing a lot different type of inmate any more,” the sheriff said. “People with mental problems, drug addictions. We even had three convicted murderers in the jail last year. These are some pretty hard-core people.”

According to the sheriff, part-time jailers were doing a good job with the inmates, but by the nature of them being just part time, they were unable to accumulate the ‘hands-on” experience of handling and dealing with prisoners that a full-time jailer develops.

“We can get certification and training for our part timers, but its still so important to develop the hands-on experience,” Goeders noted. “The part-timers just don’t get to work enough to get a good feel for what goes on in the jail on a day-to-day basis.

“I think we need to hire another full time jailer,” Supervisor Ron Graettinger said. “I understand what Denny is saying, if anything, just for the liability to the county.

Graettinger went on to make a motion to that effect, but Supervisor Ed Noonan spoke up. “I just can’t vote for expanding any department right now.

“This is a serious problem,” Goeders said. “Pocahontas County hired four full time jailers last year alone, just because of the tremendous liability involved.

Knowing that the cost of a full-time position was a concern, Goeders pointed out that the sheriff’s probation program, which started last year, had already brought around $40,000 into the county’s general fund through payments of individuals in the probation program, and that money could offset the cost of the additional position.

“I guess I feel like Ed does,” noted Board Chair Jerry Hofstad.

“I’ll withdraw my motion for now, until Keith (Wirtz) is back next week,” Graettinger said. “I talked with Keith and he was in favor of this idea, but we can talk about it next week when he’s here. But I still think it’s too dangerous over there at the jail right now.

However, the discussion continued, with concerns over budgets and the expense being brought up.

“When I was first elected, I thought that the sheriff’s budget was bloated, and I’ve tried to cut it every year,” Goeders noted. “For the next year, 2010-2011, I’ve cut $24,000 out of my budget. That probation program money could offset this expense.

“It would help me if I could see your budget,” Noonan said.

“You reduced your budget for next year by $24,000?” Hofstad asked. Goeders answered yes. “Even with a new jailer added in?” Again, Goeders answered yes.

“Well, then I’d vote aye,” Hofstad said.

Graettinger quickly re-introduced his motion to approve the hiring of a third full time jailer, and Supervisor Leo Goeders offered a second. Hofstad called for the vote and received three ayes, with Noonan casting a nay vote. Supervisor Keith Wirtz was absent from the meeting and did not vote.

“I think we need to start this immediately, due to the liability,” Graettinger said. Goeders agreed, noting he might have to amend his current budget, but again cited the probation program funds in the general fund as the source of additional funding.