SUPERIOR — First the jail closed. Now the sheriff has quit.
Mineral County found itself mired even deeper in a law-enforcement quagmire when Sheriff Tom Bauer resigned Monday, less than four hours before a special county commissioners meeting to hear recommendations on how to get the jail reopened.
The appointment of undersheriff Mike Boone as acting sheriff was quickly added to the agenda, and a Dec. 1 deadline was set for applications to fill the sheriff’s position until next year’s election.
Bauer said Tuesday his resignation stemmed from the department’s lack of funding but more so his disenchantment with county commissioners.
“That’s what prompted all this to me,” he said.
The jail closed two weeks ago due to a lack of jailers, two of whom cited Bauer’s management as well as pay of between $10 and $11 an hour as reasons why they resigned the week before. Bauer let another detention officer go not long before that, leaving just two men to fill the 24-hour, 7-day a week job that when fully staffed should have six.
County attorney Ellen Donahue said the jail couldn’t be kept open under those conditions and commissioners Roman Zylawy, Laurie Johnston and Duane Simons agreed.
The last of 15 prisoners was transported to an out-of-county jail on Nov. 1. Some were released on their own recognizances, while the Department of Corrections found accommodations for state prisoners it was holding in Mineral County. Mineral County is on the hook to pay a daily rate of $69.50 a day for each of its own prisoners being held in Sanders County. It’s also responsible for transportation costs, and is out the $62.50 a day it received from the Department of Corrections for holding state prisoners.
Zylawy, the commission chairman, said those costs and losses are counterbalanced to an extent by the salaries and benefits it’s not paying a full staff of jailers or deputies. Still, he said, the goal is to get Mineral County’s jail up and running again.
Bauer turned in his letter of resignation, effective immediately, without offering a reason.
He addressed it “To Whom It May Concern,” and kept it brief, according to Zylawy: “I, Tom Bauer, resign my position as the Mineral County Sheriff effective 11/13/2017. Signed, Tom Bauer.”
Then he turned and walked away, said Zylawy, who was in the human resources office when Bauer brought the letter in. The commissioner told the Mineral Independent that Bauer “was dressed in camouflage fatigues like he was going hunting when he left.”
Bauer said Tuesday the commissioners knew full well his motivation, but the former sheriff would not disclose it.
“My whole story is going to come out eventually,” he said.
He said after the jail closed that the budget restraints he faced as sheriff date back decades.
“Guys and gals come here and they work for us and realize what the pay is after they take a job if they don’t know it already,” Bauer said. “It’s been a revolving door, and it’s been like that since I was a deputy here in the ‘90s.”
Commissioners at a regularly scheduled commissioners meeting on Nov. 3 appointed a committee to come up with recommendations on what to do to get the jail reopened. It includes the sheriff, undersheriff, and Donahue, as well as three citizens with backgrounds in county government and two former detention officers.
A committee recommendation was approved Monday night to advertise for a jail administrator who would report to the commissioners. That person will train detention officers and administrate the office, allowing the sheriff and his staff to concentrate on patrol details.
The job would include “shopping around to make sure other jails knew we had room in ours,” said Zylawy. “We have a 28-bed capacity, and when we shut down we had 15 filled. An administrator would have time to make those calls.”
The position would be paid for by not filling a deputy position that’s currently vacant. The county could then provide increased funding for jailers and dispatchers, with a goal of aggressively recruiting the former and starting to gradually refill the jail by mid-December.
A citizen pointed out at Monday’s meeting that Mineral County is eligible for another federal Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) grant. It received one of $148,000 in 2012 to pay three years’ worth of salary for an additional deputy.
Donohue has agreed to expedite the application process before the U.S. Department of Justice’s next deadline. If successful, the county hopes to hire help in the sheriff’s office and “be even-steven in five or six months,” Zylawy said. “The county doesn’t want to lose deputies, but in the short term this might be an immediate fix to get the jail opened.”
Bauer said at the time it closed his office was down to five people — the sheriff, undersheriff and three deputies. Now the count is four.
Zylawy said commissioners felt that will be adequate for the time being with the continued law enforcement help from the Forest Service, Highway Patrol and mutual aid agreements. A retired highway patrolman, Zylawy said MHP already helps out with the likes of domestic disturbances, bar fights and jail breaks.
Should the COPS grant not come through, Mineral County will have to consider running a public safety levy next year. It’s a hot potato issue in a county of just over 4,000 people, many on limited incomes. Zylawy said the request for the levy would have to come from the sheriff’s office. The commissioners would have to decide whether or not to put it on the ballot.