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Bexar commissioner wants to break up the state of Sheriff’s union

Photo: Illustration by Chuck Kerr, License: N/A

Illustration by Chuck Kerr

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Back in mid-August, Bexar County Commissioner Kevin Wolff toured the Haven for Hope campus with Haven CEO George Block and others for the annual budget-season “shakedown,” as Wolff terms it. Block, bracing for heavy state funding cuts on the way, was hoping the county could contribute more than the $50,000 the county’s proposed 2012 budget already sets aside for the nonprofit’s sprawling homeless services campus.

“I told them it’s not my budget you want — our operating budget dries up real quick,” Wolff recalled saying. “What you want is the sheriff’s budget.”

Haven is not the only nonprofit reaching to the ropes this year for help. The city’s budget is tapped, the Legislature’s serious cuts start to materialize this month, and there is little hope for more federal dollars as the details of a spending cap are negotiated in Congress. In Bexar County, where stagnant property tax rolls have commissioners pinching every penny they meet, Wolff sees millions in savings to be had by privatizing the county lockup. But to get there, he’ll have to bust the law-enforcement union first.

Wolff, the court’s one conservative, readily admits a general distaste for organized labor – “As a Republican,” he said, “I’m going to have issues with union representation as a general rule of thumb.” But now he’s openly trying to quash the Deputy Sheriff’s Association of Bexar County, claiming its heavy influence over department policy has kept the county from running a tighter ship at the jail.

The sheriff’s department eats up roughly a third of the county’s $320 million general-fund operating budget on law enforcement and detention – the jail, the county’s largest line-item expense, makes the department a prime target during budget season, which ends with the final commission vote on Sept 13. Farming out jail operations would free up the sheriff’s office to focus solely on law enforcement, Wolff insists, noting the explosion in the county’s unincorporated areas over the past decade. “A city the size of Waco has moved in over the past 10 years,” Wolff said. “I want to have more law enforcement, that’s what my constituents want.”

Though commissioners determine the final dollar amount to give the sheriff’s department, their influence ends there, Wolff says. Right now, Sheriff Amadeo Ortiz enjoys the final word in how that money is spent, and Wolff doesn’t mince words in suggesting he thinks Ortiz has done a poor job. Holding up a County Auditor’s report drafted in early August showing the jail’s inmate bank, which holds cash and property for inmates passing through the jail, has kept nearly $110,000 belonging to released or transferred inmates, money the jail hadn’t reported to the State Comptroller or County Auditor, Wolff says: “This is what I consider piss-poor management.”

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