McCroskey Commentary: Sheriff Could Have Responded Better to Commissioner’s Budget Questions

Posted

Recently a story was published by The Chronicle  about a dustup between Sheriff Rob Snaza and Commissioner Lindsey Pollock over an increase in the sheriff’s budget. It reminded me of my first experience with the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC). Being a newly minted sheriff, I didn’t understand the rules.

About this time every year, budgets are being prepared. Often, at least back then, the BOCC would issue guidelines to elected officials about what would and wouldn’t be considered. That year, no new positions were being considered.

I took that to heart. Although I felt I had several needs, including more deputies, pursuant to their request I did not ask for any. Some months later, at a town hall of sorts in Packwood with a county commissioner, someone asked him why I didn’t get more deputies. 

His answer was my teachable moment. He didn’t bat an eye but simply said, “because the sheriff didn’t ask.”

I learned a valuable lesson that day. My job is to ask for what I believe I need and it’s the job of the commissioners to decide how much to fund.

Fast-forward to Sheriff Snaza and County Commissioner Pollock over what the sheriff believes is a modest proposal; two deputies, technical equipment and a tech to manage the data from the video and audio from body and vehicle cameras for $562,823.

Modest maybe, but not insignificant.

The characterization that Snaza “went off on Commissioner Pollock in a 20-minute response to her questions” was unfortunately, in my opinion, not a good moment for the sheriff.

In fact, it was disappointing to me to read what he said and how he said it. I know he’s better than that. By contrast, Commissioner Pollock’s questions and request for more information about what would be the results of granting these things, was again, in my opinion, a very reasoned response, especially for a relatively new county commissioner. I thought she sounded reasonable and thoughtful and was entitled to have her questions and concerns addressed.  That’s her role in this process.

This wasn’t the sheriff’s first budget, so he shouldn’t have been surprised he might get questions justifying this increased spending request. For the record, I think the sheriff’s request was reasonable, but I don’t think he was prepared well to defend it.

It may be a surprise, but natural tension between the electeds who run their offices, and the BOCC who fund it, is normal and sometimes contentious. But it’s not just the BOCC that may question the sheriff’s budget requests. Other elected officials will often point to that budget and wonder why it’s funded at a level it is. 

The others have budget needs too, and while not necessarily as popular as deputies, they may be needed.

Commissioner Pollock made another very good point in her comments to The Chronicle’s reporter. She wants to be sure there is stable, sustainable funding for these positions. One year, I received approval to hire a deputy, but if the funding dried up, so did that position. It takes a year to get someone through the academy and trained. That’s a lot of money, but worse, try recruiting someone with the promise of only a job as long as we have the money.

Not a strong selling point to come to work here.

Apparently, Commissioner Pollock was able to get the additional information she wanted and the commissioners have now approved the sheriff’s request. Good. As I said, I’m sure the deputies are needed.

But the sheriff’s conduct needs to be more professional, especially during disagreements. His behavior is an example for his officers and others.

In this case I’m sure he could have reacted better.

•••

John McCroskey was Lewis County sheriff from 1995 to 2005. He lives outside Chehalis and can be contacted at musingsonthemiddlefork@gmail.com.