Pasco Sheriff Bob White's Third World has publicly financed commuting costs. White, you may recall, compared his agency to a developing nation in 2006 and this year said Pasco's law enforcement spending is stuck in the 1970s. Turns out, the sheriff apparently has no trouble allowing more than four dozen civilian employees to take home department-issued vehicles each evening. That lets mostly white-collar office workers escape 2008 gasoline costs of more than $3 a gallon as they travel to and from work and use the cars for business and personal errands while off duty.
That is a nice perk for a department perennially crying poor mouth. The information came to light from one of White's ex-employees, retired Lt. Robert Sullivan who has announced his candidacy for sheriff.
White declined to address Sullivan's charges, saying he didn't want employees researching baseless allegations from a political opponent. Well, here is the allegation: Fifty-four administrators, civilians, detention staffers and even a couple of court bailiffs — none of whom respond to emergencies — are getting their commuting costs picked up by the public.
They get department-owned cars, maintained at public expense, insured by the government and operated on publicly purchased gasoline to drive from home to work assignments and to use away from the job on nights and weekends. The list includes nine process servers, the chief financial officer, fiscal director, auditor, the human resources director, civilian computer trainer, data services director, crossing guard supervisors and a part-time mounted posse member.
Sullivan, using the department's projections of 44.5 cents per mile to operate and maintain a vehicle, and an estimate of 12,000 miles traveled annually, figured White's agency is spending $223,000 a year with little public benefit. Unlike marked patrol vehicles, which traditionally are taken home as a visible neighborhood crime deterrent, the cars in question are unmarked and used by civilians or others who don't get called in during emergencies.
If White thinks Sullivan's accusations are off-base, he should consider the budget response in Pinellas County at the start of the current fiscal year. There, the sheriff yanked 147 vehicles off the road to save money and currently just six civilians receive department-issued vehicles.
Here's something else to chew on: White issued the general order allowing department employees to use the publicly owned cars for personal use in July 2006, two months before he told Pasco commissioners to think of themselves as the United Nations and his department as a developing nation. The expanded perk came during the same fiscal year in which the county granted significant salary increases White said the department needed to remain competitive. Big raises and personal use of cars sounds more like a well-developed nation.
White will need to begin belt-tightening shortly. The county must cut an expected $15-million from its general revenue spending by Oct. 1, while simultaneously planning to add an estimated 60 employees to staff a jail expansion in 2009.
Contrary to White's assertion, researching unnecessary costs the sheriff can eliminate strikes us as a wise use of his employees' time.