ELLSWORTH – Claiming that the elimination of the jail’s assistant administrator position has made it impossible to meet their obligations to the state, the Hancock County sheriff and jail administrator have taken legal action against the county commissioners in Superior Court.
Sheriff William Clark and Jail Administrator Linda Hannan have filed an appeal of governmental actions, contesting the commissioners’ decision last month not to fund the jail’s assistant administrator position in the county’s 2002 budget.
In the court documents, which were filed Jan. 9, Clark and Hannan argue that the authority to staff the jail lies solely with them, and not the county commissioners. They ask in the appeal that the position or the funding for the position be restored to the 2002 county budget, and that the commissioners be barred from eliminating the position or the funding for the position in the future.
“This is devastating to our operation,” Clark said Thursday of the job’s elimination. “I’ve been sheriff for 22 years, and I’ve never had to resort to the courts to resolve these sort of issues.”
Clark said that without an assistant administrator, some of the position’s duties have to get picked up by the head administrator or they don’t get done.
Among those duties are the annual training of corrections officers, deciding disciplinary issues and doing the paperwork associated with boarding inmates from other counties, Clark said.
The Maine Department of Corrections, the agency to which he is responsible for operating the jail, has expressed some reservations about the lack of an assistant jail administrator in Hancock County, according to Clark.
“They’ve already raised their eyebrows about our staffing,” Clark said. “They are aware of this and are concerned about it.”
The sheriff said he also is concerned about Hannan trying to take on too much and compromising her emotional and mental health.
“She’s a workaholic to begin with,” he said.
Julie Farr, the Bangor attorney who filed the appeal on behalf of Clark and Hannan, said Thursday state law requires the sheriff, not the commissioners, to staff the jail.
“We believe under the statutes that it’s clearly the sheriff’s responsibility,” Farr said.
“All we’re asking is for them to fund the position.”
Linda McGill, the Portland attorney hired Thursday by the commissioners to argue their defense, said the sheriff’s claim about who has the authority to staff the jail is incorrect.
“The commissioners not only have the authority but the responsibility to administer the budget, whether it’s for the county jail or for another department,” McGill said. “These are tough times, and people have to make tough decisions.”
McGill said she knows of no clear legal connection between the existence of the position and Clark’s responsibilities for running a jail.
“I’m not aware of a state statute that requires the position of assistant jail administrator,” McGill said.
Clark said one of the ironies is that the eliminated position, through boarding revenue from other counties, helped generate more money for the county than it costs to pay for the position’s salary and benefits.
In the 2001 county budget, the commissioners estimated the jail would generate $125,000 in boarding revenue, Clark said. Instead, through the efforts of Terry Robertson, the person who held the position when it was eliminated in December, the county made nearly $250,000 in boarding revenue, he said.
The commissioners budgeted $190,000 in anticipated revenue this year from boarding inmates from other counties, according to the county’s 2002 budget.
“We’d be lucky to raise $100,000 without the assistant jail administrator being there,” Clark said. Robertson was paid $31,346 for his services last year.
Robertson is still employed at the jail but now as a community corrections specialist, the funding of which is provided by the state. As a community corrections specialist, Robertson is not permitted to do most of the duties he performed as the assistant jail administrator, Clark said.
Clark and Hannan have 40 days from Jan. 9 to file a following brief that details their argument against the commissioners’ elimination of the position, after which the commissioners will be able to reply in writing, according to the attorneys. Each argument then likely will be presented during a court hearing, which McGill said probably will take place this spring.
She said appeals of governmental actions generally are handled differently from normal civil proceedings.
“I don’t anticipate the commissioners or the sheriff testifying in court against each other,” McGill said.