Sheriff Threatens Cutback in Services : County's Top Administrator Assails Duffy's 'Public Posturing' as Budget Ploy

Times Staff Writer

Raising the stakes in his bid for a bigger budget, Sheriff John Duffy on Wednesday warned that numerous high-profile services within his department will be reduced or eliminated unless he gets more money for next year.

At a downtown news conference that added another chapter to a long-running, highly publicized budget battle, Duffy argued that his department would be able to provide "only the basics . . . and not much more" if the Board of Supervisors adopted Chief Administrative Officer Norman Hickey's proposed $1.3-billion fiscal 1989 budget next week without supplementing public safety funds.

Hickey and other San Diego County officials, however, characterized Duffy's remarks as little more than public posturing and budget gamesmanship offered with an eye on next week's final budget deliberations.

Using 'Scare Tactics'

"We've seen this from John before," Hickey noted. "It looks like he's trying to use scare tactics to arouse the public to try to get what he wants. Everyone realizes that public safety is very important, but John seems to forget . . . that the county has 480 agencies. Do the taxpayers want to spend all of the money on deputies and jails? I don't think so."

In setting the stage for a climactic showdown at next Tuesday's board meeting, Duffy made a final pitch Wednesday for a multimillion-dollar increase in his budget by painting a bleak picture of the potential law-enforcement consequences of Hickey's spending recommendations.

Duffy, who requested $13 million more than the $90-million Sheriff's Department budget proposed by Hickey last spring, said Wednesday that unless he receives additional funds, he may be forced to close three substations; to curtail or eliminate special vice, narcotics, gang and juvenile details, and to redeploy deputies to handle tasks such as answering telephones.

"A law-enforcement agency has to provide first of all the basics," Duffy said, including quick response to citizen calls, emergencies and jail operations in that category.

"If you can't do those basics, then you really cannot afford to do a lot of specialized things that are very high priority, very, very important and mean a lot to a lot of people."

Noting that the county charter gives the sheriff responsibility for organizing his own department, Duffy argued that Hickey's proposed budget "in fact reorganizes the Sheriff's Department" and would force him to make undesired personnel reallocations.

"There's no fat in this budget," Duffy said. "It's stretched to the point where it's about to break."

Reiterating an argument that he has used often throughout the protracted budget squabble, Duffy again complained that "the priorities are upside down" in Hickey's budget, which he contends places a greater emphasis on county administrative overhead, public works and myriad other programs than on "the public's clear No. 1 priority" of law enforcement.

Duffy also repeated some of the complaints he had voiced in a sharply worded memo sent to the supervisors earlier this month in which he argued that public safety funding has suffered because of numerous county programs that he characterized as either nonessential or inefficient. In that memo, Duffy also suggested that what he sees as misdirected budget priorities stem partly from Hickey's "bureaucratic baloney" about the board's lack of discretion over state or federally mandated programs.

Hickey, though, argued Wednesday that Duffy's laments simply reflect his "narrow perspective that comes from looking only at one of many departments." Many other county programs, including crucial services such as mental health care and child-abuse prevention plans, also face cutbacks as a result of budget constraints that Hickey has repeatedly described as the county's "most severe fiscal crisis since the passage of Proposition 13" a decade ago.

"Sure, we could give the sheriff all the money he wants, but then we'd take the hit for bigger cuts in things like social services and mental health," Hickey said. "John keeps asking for more and more and it's never enough. Since he likes to talk about priorities, maybe it's time to look at how he spends money in his own department."

Over the last five years, Hickey said, Duffy's budget has increased by more than $40 million, while the sheriff's manpower level--now at 1,926 permanent employees--has grown by 305 over three years.

"When he says that we've not been cooperating with him, it just boggles the mind," Hickey said. "This board has been very, very kind to the sheriff. But the fact is that the Board of Supervisors controls the budget, not the sheriff. They've got to balance a lot of demands and important programs. The sheriff only has his own department to think about."

Stung by Duffy's criticism, Hickey has been closely scrutinizing the sheriff's past budgets "line by line" in preparation for next week's budget session.

"If he wants to talk about priorities, we'll have something to talk about," Hickey said.

With ill feelings on both sides--and with several supervisors clearly frustrated by what they view as Duffy's persistent grandstanding--many county officials expect that budget meeting to be an acrimonious one.

Further evidence of the animosity that has developed came early Wednesday morning when a Duffy aide telephoned Robert Lerner, the county's public information officer, to say that Lerner would not be allowed to attend Duffy's news conference, held at the sheriff's headquarters.

'Simply a Mouthpiece'

Asked about the incident, Duffy said: "Bob Lerner . . . is not a member of the media and he's not a member of my department. He's not a board staff member, he's not a CAO staff member. He's simply the mouthpiece for the supervisors and the CAO. This is a press conference, and it's in my office. And you're the press and I'm the sheriff, and he isn't either one."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World