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Sheriff Defends Early Jail Releases to Supervisors

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Sheriff Sherman Block, defending his decision to release jail inmates early as a cost-cutting measure, Tuesday offered to let members of the Board of Supervisors go through his books to prove there were no other ways to trim his budget.

Block began releasing inmates Friday from the Biscailuz Center jail in East Los Angeles and the Peter J. Pitchess Honor Rancho in Saugus. He plans to close the Eastside jail and part of the Rancho jail to trim $7.3 million from his departmental budget.

So far, about 1,000 inmates--all doing time for misdemeanors--have been freed and the early discharges will continue until the jail population is reduced by 3,200.

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Three supervisors last week claimed they were unaware of Block’s plans and criticized the action. In the face of concern by some supervisors that administrative costs could have been pared instead, Block stoutly defended his management of the sheriff’s office before the board.

“I would put how we manage our department up against any other law enforcement agency,” he said.

Just how the sheriff spends his budget has always been a sticky issue, with Block arguing that as an elected official he has authority to set his own agenda.

Supervisor Gloria Molina, in particular, has frequently been at odds with Block over his reluctance to provide the board with a more detailed spending plan.

Molina prodded Block again Tuesday, questioning why the sheriff’s own budget documents submitted to the board included no program-by-program line items for services and supplies, transportation and travel expenses, membership fees and other charges.

She contended that by her calculation administrative costs in the spending outline totaled 25% of the departmental budget.

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Block countered that, in fact, administrative costs consume no more than 8.4% of his budget, noting that less than three-quarters of 1% of his personnel could be considered management, ranked captain or above.

And directing his comments at Molina, he said pointedly, “Your staff was told they could come over and look at the spread sheets, item by item.”

After Tuesday’s meeting, Molina sounded more conciliatory, saying she did not intend to criticize Block’s work or have any desire to “micro-manage” the Sheriff’s Department.

On a motion by Molina, the board did adopt some budgeting principals intended to guide department heads in preparing their budgets for the 1995-96 fiscal year. The blueprint instructs county managers and departments to look for ways to trim administrative and overhead costs, analyze travel expenditures and fees spent on memberships to organizations and to clarify their mission.

Officials estimate the county’s deficit next year could exceed $1 billion.

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