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Monday, December 9, 2013

Multnomah County Sheriff Dan Staton: Lawbreaker

Posted by Dirk VanderHart on Mon, Dec 9, 2013 at 4:29 PM

Sheriff Dan Staton—elected to apprehend and watch over lawbreakers—became one himself earlier this year.

The Multnomah County Sheriff's Office, perpetually in the hot seat for millions in overtime expenditures, overshot its budget last fiscal year by more than half a million dollars, a breach of Oregon law.

That overspending amounts to a sliver of the office's $120 million budget. But it also contravenes the normal process, where agencies in danger of falling short of cash ask the county's board of commissioners for an infusion from the contingency fund—giving the public a window into the expense before it occurs.

But Staton made no plea for the $508,000 outlay beyond his budget, so you never heard about it. Now, the county's in the position of having to explain to the Oregon Secretary of State's Office why it won't happen again.

On Thursday, the board of commissioners will vote on a resolution laying out the budget violation, and the steps Staton is taking to correct it.

"It's less than allowed," County Auditor Steve March said of overspending. "Now we have to go back to the public and say we screwed up."

According to Staton's office, the violation was due to an "unprecedented increase in personnel overtime costs due to suicide watch hour requirements." The sheriff says in documents his corrections officers spent 13,000 more hours watching potentially suicidal prisoners in fiscal 2013 than it budgeted for, causing roughly $1 million in overtime spending. Staton says the office has improved its financial reporting and is conducting monthly reviews.

Under ORS 294.100: "It is unlawful for any public official to expend any moneys in excess of the anounts provided by law, or for any other or different purpose than provided by law." The law says public officials who overspend can be sued for the money by the district attorney—or even taxpayers if the expenditures constitute malfeasance.

Staton's don't. They just continue to show the office's poor budgeting.

The violation, it seems, came to light in a routine external audit by the secretary of state. Oregon law states counties must outline the "measures it considers necessary to correct any deficiencies disclosed in the report."

The Secretary of State's office can then approve the plan or require further action.

It's no secret the sheriff's office has difficulties in crafting its budget. Staton routinely spends more than double the amount he budgets for overtime—a development that led county commissioners to require he make quarterly pleas for overtime money.

A call to the sheriff's office hasn't been returned today.

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