The Real Reason To Hate The Media

By Lee White

I saw that bumper sticker the other day — the one that reads, “I DON’T BELIEVE THE LIBERAL MEDIA!” That thing has been around since the Reagan Administration. The first time I saw it, I was a young reporter doing afternoon traffic reports in Wichita. There it was on a dumpy little clunker driven by an older woman near Central and Ridge. The recent encounter made me swear time travel was possible.

After watching bits and pieces of ABC’s Election Night coverage, it is understandable why Republicans believe the media is biased toward Democrats. The commentators seemed positively incredulous at the notion that anyone had voted for Donald Trump — let alone that he was beating Hillary Clinton. She was clearly smarter, better organized, better qualified and all the cool people were voting for her. Except some of them didn’t. A lot of them didn’t. The media came face to face with the reality that their grip on the nation’s collective psyche is slipping away and they weren’t taking it well.

The media probably are biased toward liberals, but they are also biased toward incumbent politicians and the bureaucrats they hire or appoint. Reporters love the status quo and one needn’t venture far from Butler County to prove that assertion. Never in my 51 years have I encountered so many journalists so positively enamored with “the way things are” than I have in the Wichita metropolitan area.

All reporters, to some extent, are reluctant to bite the hand that feeds them. Advertisers feed them money. This is why one rarely sees a hard-hitting investigation of car dealers. Public officials feed them information. This is why one rarely sees a hard-hitting investigation of, well, anything.

Reporters have become so afraid that politicians and especially cops will cut off easy access to routine stories and sound bites that they won’t risk running any coverage that might embarrass sources even if the public good demands otherwise.

Time and again during the nearly six months this blog has been in existence, I’ve broken stories that needed to be told. Examples:

  • The whistleblower lawsuit against Flinthills services and the retaliation I faced as a result of reporting on it,
  • A dispute between the Augusta Department of Public Safety director and Rose Hill officials,
  • The fact that the EMS director lives almost as far away from Butler County as I do,
  •  The real reason an Augusta cop left the department and the fact that he continued to work for the chief’s private business long after,
  • Turnover in the EMS and sheriff’s departments, and
  • Questionable donations to Sheriff Kelly Herzet’s campaign.

The only story the mainstream media covered at all was turnover at the sheriff’s department and only after it became the central issue in the campaign. Even when there was little left for reporters to do but make a few phone calls and use this blog as political “cover” for running a story, they wouldn’t pull the trigger.

Granted, I started this blog as a way to help a friend, Walker Andrews, get elected sheriff. I’ve never lied about that or tried to hide it. I also involve myself in stories and offer opinions in ways mainstream journalists wouldn’t. I don’t pretend to be something I’m not and that I never really wanted to be in the first place.

I wouldn’t have a problem with the mainstream media being “liberal,” “conservative,” or refusing to do stories because they don’t want to offend a source or an advertiser. But, for the love of God, don’t pretend to be an unbiased source of information or an occupier of the moral high ground.

You’re not on my side. You don’t have my back. And the only thing anyone should expect more of is the same. And don’t think I’m picking on TV stations. It’s just that most newspapers don’t have catchy slogans. What some papers do have that broadcast outlets usually don’t is people who are capable of investigative reporting and in-depth writing. Unfortunately, they also have editors and publishers who won’t allow those people to use their skills to hold the powerful accountable.

If traditional media are going to abandon their, uh, watchdog role — and sources and advertisers are going to utilize the stick and carrot to make sure they do — something will fill the void. People, corporations, and even government agencies will tell their own stories via social media. Rogue reporters will start blogs. Special interest group “think tanks” such as the Kansas Policy Institute will similarly circumvent the media. Before you know it, there is no more “bubble headed bleach blonde who comes on at five.”

Maybe that’s part of the grand scheme. I mean, how relevant could she be in an age when news breaks at the speed of light on cyber platforms that didn’t even exist until the second Bush Administration? By the time five o’clock rolls around, everybody already knows what’s going to be in tomorrow’s newspaper if the presses even run the next day. And the news comes on at 4 p.m. because the stations that carried Oprah have never found a suitable syndicated replacement.

So hate the lamestream media if you will, but do so for the right reason. Loathe them not for the information they bring you but for that which they do not.

Better still, instead of hating the media — even if the media you hate is me — BECOME the media. Develop a following. Learn how to dig up facts. Write or speak or photograph or shoot video of what you believe isn’t getting enough coverage. Post it on Facebook, Twitter, or a blog. Sounds trite, but be the change you want to see in the world.

That’s what we’re doing with Watchdog. I thank you for being part of our growing audience.

Time For New Leadership

By Lee White

It’s time for Butler County EMS Director Chad Pore to go home to Greensburg and stay there.

Pore, who apparently still lives in Greensburg more than two years after accepting the Butler County position, put his foot in his mouth big time during a September 21 staff meeting. During a discussion of how the 2017 county budget affected his department, Pore said, “One commissioner is not going to be back next year. That’s good.”

The only county commissioner who is not returning next year is Peggy Palmer.

Pore had voiced his displeasure earlier in the meeting that a station remodeling project budget was slashed by about 75 percent.

“The whole thing, I’ll be honest, the whole thing is not what we want,” Pore said. “We want a quarter of a million freakin’ dollars to do a damn remodel that we should be able to have and the reality of it is, above my pay grade says, ‘no.'”

As is common practice, someone with EMS posted the staff meeting video to YouTube. Click here for the link. You will notice that it says “this video has been removed by the user.” That occurred several hours after I posted the video on the Butler County Watchdog Facebook page.

There are two issues here. First, a county department head stands up in full uniform in front of his staff and the public and rejoices at the fact that one of his bosses is leaving. That smacks of insubordination. If County Administrator Will Johnson allows a department head to get away with such behavior this time, what is he going to do when it is directed toward a commissioner he likes (e.g. Mike Wheeler, Dan Woydziak, or Jeff Masterson)?

The second issue involves the video and its sudden disappearance. Pore knew the camera was on him. How do I know that he knew? Because at one point late in the meeting, he asked that the camera be shut off, presumably so he could discuss something he didn’t want the folks out in YouTube Land to see. Then after I post a link to it, the video disappears — removed by the user.

The video’s removal reminds me of the new as-yet-unwritten county policy regarding Kansas Open Records Act requests. Those requests now go to County Counselor Terry Huelskamp, who writes letters at taxpayer expense, apparently in an effort to delay release of the records. In other words, if it makes the county look bad, cover it up! I blame Johnson for allowing this culture of secrecy to permeate the county.

Because I’m often called a liar when I report information that tarnishes the county’s image, I’m careful to have a Plan B. In this instance, I used my phone to make audio recordings of Pore’s utterances from the YouTube video because I anticipated its removal. Click here for the remark about Palmer and click here for the quote about the remodeling budget. I apologize for the audio quality, but I think you’ll hear what you need to hear.

No, I haven’t always agreed with Peggy Palmer, but the people in her neck of the woods seem to like her. They have elected her to multiple terms in the Kansas Legislature — both House and Senate — and the county commission. As evidenced by her candor when a citizen questioned commissioners about Pore’s residency at the July 12 county commission meeting, she’s honest and transparent.

Pore exercised horrible judgment by attacking Palmer in front of his staff and in a public forum. Coupled with his reluctance to move to Butler County, it should be abundantly clear to him, to Johnson, and to county commissioners that an exit strategy is in order. Anything less will demonstrate that Johnson has lost complete control of the organization he is paid so well to manage and that his days should also be numbered.

County Funnels Open Records Request Through Attorney

By Lee White

As expected, the woman who last Thursday requested a list of new hires and terminations from the Butler County Sheriff’s Department for the period beginning August 1, 2016, has received a letter from County Counselor Terry Huelskamp. The Andover attorney said he would get in touch with her to discuss how much time and money it would take to supply her with the records.

In May, this same woman received two years’ worth of the same information for both the sheriff’s department and Emergency Medical Service in three days for $39. One wonders how much taxpayer money the county is paying Huelskamp to write letters such as this one. My guess is, more than $39. Perhaps I should file a Kansas Open Records Act request for the bills.

But what do legal fees matter to the Butler County Commission, County Administrator Will Johnson, and Sheriff Kelly Herzet? Not much of the money comes out of their pockets. Besides, they don’t want another blog post like this one to remind taxpayers that the agency apparently continues to have problems recruiting and retaining deputies.

Public access to records is vital to holding elected and appointed officials accountable. The Open Records Act, although often a tool for journalists, is supposed to apply equally to all members of the public. Just because Johnson and Herzet don’t like the individual making the request — just because the information the records contain might prove embarrassing — doesn’t mean that the law and county policy concerning the law should not apply equally. Does every member of the public who requests records get a letter from Huelskamp? That’s fodder for yet another Open Records Act request.

In case you’re wondering why someone wants these records — not that one is required by law to state a reason — there have been reports of more turnover at the sheriff’s department. Records might help answer these questions:

  • Have five deputies recently left the road patrol?
  • Are road patrol deputies being required to work overtime at the jail because it is still understaffed?
  • Did a contract deputy assigned to Douglass recently leave for greener pastures?

By needlessly delaying a lawful open records request, county officials have more or less confirmed that turnover is still a problem. Instead of just handing over the statistics and letting them speak for themselves, Johnson & Co. have generated more negative publicity for themselves by dragging the process out.

While Johnson continues to hide behind his lawyer, the situation at the sheriff’s department becomes even more dire as experienced deputies leave and quality recruits make themselves scarce. County commissioners already approved more money for jail deputies, according to this story from the Times-Gazette. But the jail isn’t the only issue.

Instead of trying to sweep everything under the rug, how about real leadership and real solutions? Yes, it’s going to take money, but money is only part of it. Why not bring in a human resources consultant to conduct confidential interviews with current and former deputies and to study pay, benefits, turnover, and working conditions and draw comparisons with other departments? I’m not usually a fan of spending money on consultants, but this may be the time to do it and it makes more sense than paying lawyers any day of the week.

County Commissioners Discuss Sporting Events, Make Board Appointment

By Julie Pots

 

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Gary Wartick addresses county commissioners

Butler County commissioners on Tuesday conducted a work session on the subject of issuing Gary and Deborah Wartick special permits to continue holding more than two cross country running events per year at their private residence.  Several area citizens voiced their concerns regarding dust, school bus parking, speeding vehicles and the possible damage being done to the township roads.  The commissioners listened to all citizens, including Mr. Wartick, but did not make a decision regarding the granting of special permits to continue this practice.  One access route to the Wartick’s property uses a road maintained by Spring Township, another route uses a road maintained by El Dorado Township.   A different area of concern brought up by a resident not living in the area was the potential for accidents.  The citizen was concerned that although the Warticks operate an insurance company on the premises and purchase insurance for these events, that policy may not protect any participants or attendees, and may cover only the insured.

Several school districts along with the Butler County Community College hold events on the property at several times during the calendar year.  Mr. Wartick is also employed by Circle School District as a cross country coach.

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Flinthills Services CEO Kathy Walter and board appointee Norm Duncan speak to commissioners

Commissioners also appointed Norm Duncan to an at-large position on the board of directors of Flinthills Services and the Community Developmental Disabilities Organization of Butler County. Duncan is branch manager of Bank of the West in Augusta, but lives in Sedgwick County. Commissioners recently amended the Flinthills Services by-laws to allow an individual who resides outside the county but is employed locally to serve on the board. Duncan said he became interested in Flinthills because his son has a disability that includes autism.

Rose Hill citizen Julie Winslow spoke to Butler County commissioners during the public comment period regarding open records requests sent to the county for processing.  She cited three incidents that she wanted to put “on record:”

1) Several months ago she requested statistics from the sheriff’s office, and after passing that request through the county clerk’s office she received a telephone call from Sheriff Herzet and Undersheriff Wilhite explaining that they had a new computer system that they weren’t able to use yet

2) Winslow also stated that six other unrelated requests were made specifically to the sheriff’s office as well – those requests were made recently by the Citizens for a Better Butler County – and all six requests were immediately referred to Terry Huelskamp, the attorney for the Board of Commissioners and were responded to in six separate letters stating that basically the information would take time to gather.  She advised that nothing further had been received nor has the cost of gathering such information been supplied as is required by law

3) Speaking on behalf of a citizen in Pleasant Township, Ms. Winslow also presented several records to the board that were “incident reports” received from the sheriff’s office where much of the information on the reports were redacted before the records were released to the requestor.

Ms. Winslow stated that these were public records containing no personal information such as social security numbers or birthdates.   She also stated that she has received multiple such county records and not once had any information ever been redacted.  Commission Chairman Jeff Masterson, of Andover, said he  did not know why the redactions were done to these records nor was he or other commissioners aware of public records being handled through the board’s attorney, and that he would check it out and let her know.  Ms. Winslow asked if the information would be received at the next commission meeting but Mr. Masterson would make no promises as to when he might have that information for her.

I recently spoke with Ms. Ladonna Johnson regarding questions she asked the commission a few weeks ago (click here for the Watchdog article) on behalf of the Pleasant Township Coalition as to 1) Why Butler County EMS Director Chad Pore is being allowed to live in Greensburg, Kansas 2) Why he is allowed to ‘hotel’ at the Augusta EMS facility three nights per week free of charge  3) When or if he will be moving, to Butler County.   Ms. Johnson also did not understand why the county just gave him a $5,000-per-year raise given the circumstances.  Chairman Masterson has not yet responded to any of those questions either.

Click here to view county commission agendas and minutes and to listen to audio of this and other meetings.

Carl The Carpetbagger

By Lee White

In 2012, Carl Enterkin ran for Butler County sheriff against Kelly Herzet. I worked on Enterkin’s campaign. I signed on despite knowing Enterkin’s Butler County roots were tenuous. Although I didn’t know him personally, I knew he had been a Wichita police lieutenant and held the chief’s job at a smaller department after retirement. I also knew he had run unsuccessfully for Sedgwick County sheriff in 2008.

Enterkin had moved to Andover, they told me, so I forged ahead in helping with the campaign. As Hunter S. Thompson wrote, “Oh well — buy the ticket, take the ride.”

And what a ride it would be!

Right out of the gate, KWCH-TV did a story about how nobody at the Andover apartment complex where Enterkin lived had seen him. The reporter, Michael Schwanke, did an interview with a political scientist who characterized Enterkin as a “carpetbagger.”

The label stuck. Even though Enterkin fulfilled the legal residency requirement of being a “qualified elector of the county,” (click here for the statute), the voters viewed him as an outsider — an opportunist with no real ties to Butler County — and soundly defeated him at the polls.

It probably didn’t help Enterkin’s cause when folks learned I was working on the campaign and living in California. It really didn’t help when someone from the Herzet camp released a picture of Enterkin apparently sleeping in his patrol car while on duty with the Bel Aire Police Department. I’m not complaining. I would have done the same thing had the picture been of Herzet. From that experience, I learned that the individual an opposition researcher should research first is the candidate he’s working for.

Several folks have commented that it really doesn’t matter that Butler County EMS Director Chad Pore lives four counties away. After all, there’s no residency requirement in county policy.

But before these people get to believing their analysis that residency doesn’t matter, they should remember the cautionary tale of Carl the Carpetbagger. Even though what Carl did was legal, an overwhelming majority of Butler County voters decided it wasn’t right. They didn’t want an outsider serving in such a high-profile, important job.

Good thing for Pore that he doesn’t have to face a Butler County electorate that simply doesn’t cotton to outsiders. How long the county administrator and commissioners continue to put up with this arrangement remains to be seen.

Citizen Confronts Commissioners About EMS Director Residency

A rural Rose Hill resident confronted Butler County commissioners at the end of their meeting this morning concerning the residency of Butler County EMS Director Chad Pore. Ladonna Johnson told commissioners she had read on Butler County Watchdog that Pore has been living in Greensburg since he took the director’s job in May 2014. Click on the icon above and turn up your speakers or headphones to listen to the recording of the meeting.

Most of the commissioners who spoke about the issue seemed nervous. One repeatedly promised to look into the matter, but did not give a timetable for doing so. After Johnson stated that Pore lived in Greensburg, Kansas, one of the male voices can be heard saying, “That’s true — three days a week.” In the interest of accuracy and full disclosure of all information that let to this conclusion, the following section of this paragraph was updated at 3:05 p.m. on 7/16/2016 to reflect three days off per week and inclusion of a link to a Facebook screen capture: That would mean that Pore is taking multiple three-day weekends — or at the very least three days off per week — during which he resides 137 miles from EMS Headquarters in El Dorado. Mr. Pore stated in a comment on his Facebook page, which was publicly available to view, that he commutes “two times a week. ” Click here to view a screen capture.

Johnson grilled commissioners about whether Pore was staying at Butler County EMS Station 2 on Ohio Street in Augusta and who was paying for it. She never got a straight answer — just a lot of talk about how EMS stations are typically staffed 24 hours a day.  She also did not get an answer to her question about whether Pore drives a county vehicle to and from Greensburg, but someone on the recording — possibly County Administrator Will Johnson — stated that Pore is on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

At one point, Ladonna Johnson said to the county administrator, “Will, it’s disrespectful for you to walk away while I’m talking.”

The only commissioner who offered an informative answer during the nearly five-minute encounter was Peggy Palmer, who is serving her final term.

“My understanding when he was hired and we were told that, yes, he planned to relocate,” Palmer said. “He understood and all of us agreed and all of us talked about it, give him time to move here, but that we would like to have him as a Butler County resident.”

Palmer’s recollection of the situation appears to be accurate.

“The first thing we did in Kiowa County was recognize that we need to be leaders in patient care,” said Pore, in this Butler County Times-Gazette article announcing his arrival in 2014. “My family lives in the community and they will be living in Butler County. It is very important to me that they and everyone else receives the care they need, when they need.”

One question remains: Just when will Pore and his family begin living in Butler County?

Above are the facts. Listen to the recording for yourselves. Click here to read the earlier blog post about Pore’s residency. What follows is my opinion.

It is obvious that most county commissioners and County Administrator Will Johnson don’t like being held accountable to the public they serve. The administrator, in particular, has failed to deal with this issue for lo these past two years. It begs the question: What else has he failed to deal with while drawing his $121,953 annual salary?

I applaud Commissioner Palmer for her candor during the meeting. Although I haven’t always been a fan of hers, I think she’s the only one who’s trying to do the right thing and it’ll be a loss for Butler County when she steps into retirement in January.

Mr. Pore, you need to make a choice: Kiowa County or Butler County. Mr. Johnson and his supporters on the commission apparently lack the courage to make it for you.

Police chiefs, fire chiefs, EMS directors, and top-level managers of most decent public- and private-sector concerns live close to their work — not just because it’s policy most places, but because they want to set an example for their employees, potential employees, and professional colleagues that living and working in their chosen locale is something they value and enjoy.

Although I no longer live in Butler County, there is a huge difference between a blogger and an EMS director, who gets paid around $70,000 a year and is responsible for those who make life-and-death decisions in emergencies. All of you people who grill me about not living in Butler County: Why don’t you ask Mr. Pore why he doesn’t move there? Maybe you’re afraid of the answer you’ll get, much like Mr. Johnson and the county commissioners (with the exception of Palmer) are apparently afraid of people like Ladonna Johnson.

Butler County EMS Director Commutes From Home In Greensburg

By Lee White

Note: This is not intended as an attack of any on the hard-working EMTs and paramedics serving the citizens of Butler County or any other jurisdiction day in and day out. I’m proud of you, I thank you for your service — including transporting my mother about six weeks ago — and I do not want anyone thinking I’m one of the protester types we’ve seen across the nation recently. I just believe someone needs to hold public officials (i.e. county commissioners and administration) accountable. Because I have the skills, the time, and know the history of Butler County government better than most alive today, I choose to do this. 

Butler County EMS Director Chad Pore continues to reside in Greensburg more than two years after taking the job. Pore served as Kiowa County EMS director prior to accepting the Butler County position on May 14, 2014.

Pore is registered to vote in Kiowa County and voted in the November 4, 2014, general election more than five months after becoming Butler County EMS director. Click here for information obtained from Kansas Voter View. Pore states on his Facebook page that he lives in Greensburg. Click here to view a screen capture. Various Facebook posts also confirm his residency including this one where he tells a friend he commutes to Butler County two times a week.

I have sent an e-mail to Pore, County Administrator Will Johnson, and all five county commissioners informing them of the situation and seeking comment. I will publish any comments I receive in their entirety.

According to mapquest.com, Pore’s residence is 137 miles from Butler County EMS Headquarters at 701 N. Haverhill Road, El Dorado. Mapquest estimates it takes two hours and 18 minutes to cover that distance by road. Detractors frequently complain that I do not live in Butler County. That is correct. I live in Harrisonville, Missouri, which is 172 miles and two hours and 54 minutes away from the EMS headquarters by road, according to mapquest.com.

The difference is, I’m a blogger. If I can’t reach the scene of a disaster in Butler County in a timely manner or if I can’t communicate with someone there by phone or radio because communications have been disrupted, it’s really no big deal. Pore, on the other hand, whose gross pay was $69,859 last year, according to kansasopengov.org, oversees a department charged with protecting the health and safety of more than 65,000 residents.

This blog post dealing with turnover at the sheriff’s department and EMS indicates that most of Pore’s staff, including management, is fairly new. Should disaster strike as it did in Eureka last Thursday night and as it almost did at the Butler County Jail on Sunday, one would think Johnson and county commissioners would insist that department heads live in the community in case their services are needed after hours.

Grant Helferich, who was EMS director until shortly before Pore took over, lived in El Dorado, reared his children there, and could frequently be found at major incidents including the 1991 Andover tornado. I know. I was there.

I drove out to Greensburg on Sunday. I’ll admit I was there looking for a Butler County EMS vehicle parked in front of Pore’s house. I did not see one. I also wanted to see what the town looked like since it was devastated by a tornado on May 4, 2007. It was my first trip to Greensburg in probably 30 years.

No doubt about it: Deep scars remain. I found myself wanting to roll up my sleeves and do something even after all these years have passed. And I realize that taking a good family like Pore’s out of Greensburg hurts that community far more than taking a good family out of Butler County does. Greensburg suffered a double whammy: A year after the tornado hit, along came the Great Recession. That the town is doing as well as it is amazes me. I want to return when I have more time, bring my wife, and examine closely the strides the brave people of Kiowa County have made.

Against that backdrop, I can understand Pore’s reluctance to relocate. But the people of Butler County deserve an EMS director who is part of the community just as Helferich was (and still is). If folks are going to attack me for writing about Butler County from afar, well, don’t you think these same people should have an issue with someone who runs a major county emergency service and lives almost as far away as I do?

And I know it would be difficult to sell a home in Greensburg. I don’t know whether Pore owns the house where he and his family live or whether they’ve tried to sell it. I do know there was no “for sale” sign in the yard when I drove by on Sunday. Giving someone a transition period is perfectly acceptable, but two years is too long.

Then there’s the issue of the paramedics and EMTs who work for Pore. I don’t know how it is these days, but in the 1990s, crews were required to live within a certain radius of EMS stations so they could be on call. If there is any sort of a residency requirement for rank-and-file EMS workers, Pore should lead by example and follow suit.

As much as I sympathize with the people of Greensburg and with Pore for his apparent attachment to the place, I believe county commissioners need to insist that he choose one community or the other. Butler County is the largest geographically in the state. In addition to the weather hazards we all face (even those who live 20 miles into Missouri), Butler County has a major refinery, a prison, and a larger-than-average jail. The potential for a major incident is too great to risk having a top manager so far away. There’s nothing illegal about this arrangement — county commissioners could fly an EMS director in on a Learjet from New York City every week if they wanted to — but it is bad public policy and needs to end.

DANGEROUS TURNOVER: Sheriff’s Department, EMS Struggle To Keep Employees

By Lee White

If you dial 911 needing an ambulance or a sheriff’s deputy, chances are good that the people responding haven’t worked for Butler County very long. A Kansas Open Records Act request reveals that employee turnover   — subject of this recent jail deputy retention initiative by county commissioners — is by no means limited to the detention facility. There has also been significant turnover among road patrol deputies and emergency medical technicians and paramedics.

Watchdog requested the number of new hires and terminations at the jail, sheriff’s department, and emergency medical service for 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016 to the date of the request, May 17. Click here for the document showing new hires and terminations in the three departments.

Trouble At The Jail

Butler County intentionally built a larger jail than it needed expecting to fill the beds with overflow from other counties. When that overflow didn’t materialize, the jail lost money. In more recent times, jail occupancy hasn’t been an issue thanks to contracts with federal law enforcement agencies and other counties, but keeping qualified staff has been a problem. Sheriff Kelly Herzet, who is finishing his first full term in office, has blamed the turnover on low pay and the fact that the jail was designed for guards to have direct contact with prisoners rather than monitoring them from secured command centers such as the ones used in the Sedgwick County jail.

The jail has been the target of lawsuits concerning inmate deaths and sexual abuse. During the 2012 sheriff’s race, Herzet’s opponent, Carl Enterkin cited the case of Kasie Ducharme, an inmate who died at the jail in 2007, whose family won a settlement after suing the county for failing to provide adequate medical care. Click here to read the Wichita Eagle story.

Jail deputy Charles Chaney III was fired and charged with having consensual sex with a female inmate in 2013. Click here for the Butler County Times-Gazette story. In a federal lawsuit, however, the victim claims she did not consent to have sex with Chaney. Click here for the story from Courthouse News Service. That case was dismissed on motion of both parties, but was re-filed on July 28, 2015, and is still pending in U.S. District Court.

Jail Employment Numbers

The number of new hires (red) and terminations (blue) at the jail is significant. During the three-and-a-half-year period covered by the above chart, 54 new jail deputies or supervisors and one new receptionist were hired and 57 jail deputies or supervisors, and two receptionists and an information analyst either quit or were fired. The department website indicates there are positions for 60 full-time detention deputies.

It is interesting to note that county commissioners took action to slow jail turnover only last month — after it became clear that Sheriff Herzet had significant opposition in the August 2 Republican primary. That opposition includes Curtis Cox, a current road patrol deputy; Mike Holton, a former road patrol supervisor who has expressed concerns about turnover; and Walker Andrews, a retired Wichita police lieutenant whose father, Butch, is a retired Butler County deputy.

Turnover Not Limited To Jail

“When I left the Butler County Sheriff’s Office in 2014 it was one of the hardest things I’d ever done,” Holton said in this Times-Gazette candidate profile. “After spending nearly 25 years with an organization, it’s never easy to walk away. However, at that point it was the best thing for me as well as for my family. I’d never seen the morale as low as it was then and as a result there has been unprecedented turnover.”

Sheriff Patrol and Court Security Employment Numbers

The numbers support Holton’s and the other candidates’ allegations of low morale and turnover not only at the jail but among road patrol deputies. During the three-and-a-half-year period covered by the above chart, 18 new patrol deputies, three court security officers, and one detective were hired. Sixteen patrol deputies, three court security officers, one sergeant, one lieutenant, one civil process officer, and one clerk either quit or were fired. The department website states that there are 37 state-certified deputies in the road patrol division.

Shiny New Faces At EMS

Something big happened at Butler County EMS in early 2014. Chris Davis, who runs the county 911 dispatch center and is a former EMS paramedic and supervisor, appeared at a commission meeting as interim EMS director seeking bids on new ambulances. Davis was flanked by Butler County Emergency Management Director Jim Schmidt, himself a paramedic and former Sedgwick County EMS supervisor. Apparently lost on the Times-Gazette reporter who wrote this March 11, 2014, article was that the real story wasn’t ambulance bids.

“Last week, the last of the EMS administration gave me his resignation,” said Davis. “He was offered a job in the private sector that dealt directly with his master’s degree.”

Although the newspaper never followed up with a story about why the entire management team of an important county department had suddenly left, it is clear from county records that this is exactly what happened. What’s more, many of the EMTs and paramedics who provide patient care on ambulances have left, as well.

EMS Employment Numbers

For the three-and-a-half-year period covered in the above chart, there have been 47 new paramedics and EMTs hired, as well as an EMS director and a clerk. Thirty-five EMTs and paramedics quit or were fired during the same period along with one EMS director, one administrative assistant, one operations captain, one clinical operations major, one operations major, one personnel development coordinator, one assistant to the medical director, one logistics coordinator, and one training officer. Official county budget documents show that total authorized full- and part-time EMS employment has gone from 41.73 in 2013 to 43 in 2015 and 2016.

EMS Director Grant Helferich, who had led the department since 1990, resigned on April 26, 2014, according to county records and his Linked-In profile. Chad Pore took the same position on May 12, 2014. Click here for the Times-Gazette story announcing Pore’s arrival. Turnover among street-level EMTs and paramedics has accelerated since Pore took the helm — 25 have quit or been fired while 33 have been hired.

The Big Question: Why?

Money is often the answer, but with turnover this drastic, can it really be the only one? Probably not. Butler County’s emergency services have long been a stepping stone — critics would argue a dumping ground — for those who couldn’t catch on with a larger department in Wichita or the Kansas City metro area. No doubt about it: Bigger cities offer better pay and benefits. Nonetheless, examination of available data on kansasopengov.org and hrepartners.com reveals that Butler County’s gross wages are probably in line with smaller departments.

Starting pay for a Butler County jail deputy is $13.99 an hour, according to hrepartners.com. It’s $14.05 in Sedgwick County, but only $13.26 in Saline County, where Salina is located.

According to data from kansasopengov.org, 2015 gross pay for the top 10 jail deputy earners in Butler County ranged from $28,885 to $49,252. In Sedgwick County, it was $78,694 to $121,866. Ellis County, where Hays is located, came in slightly below Butler County with a range of $24,709 to $47,939. The figures include overtime but not benefits.

Butler County’s top 10 sheriff deputy earners brought in $40,219 to $67,123 in 2015. Sedgwick County’s range was $69,890 to $85,631. Cowley County, where Winfield and Arkansas City are located, had top 10 deputy earners pulling in $34,781 to $44,240.

The top 10 Butler County paramedic earners grossed from $41,913 to $53,581 in 2015. Sedgwick County’s top 10 earned $53,318 to $69,505. In Ellis County, the top 10 earned from $47,961 to $57,912.

County commissioners control the purse strings for all departments and the management and work culture of departments such as EMS that are not overseen by other elected officials (sheriff, clerk, treasurer, etc.). Commissioners themselves earned anywhere from $28,633 to $29,833 in 2015 depending upon chairmanship duties, according to kansasopengov.org. Commissioners attend one morning meeting a week, as well as workshops and public appearances. County Administrator Will Johnson, who manages day-to-day operations, made $121,953 last year.

Voters will ultimately decide in the August 2 Republican primary whether Commissioner Ed Myers and Sheriff Kelly Herzet have been getting the job done. They’ll also select a new commissioner to replace Peggy Palmer, who is retiring from her District 2 position.

Voters would certainly be justified to question why there has been so much turmoil and turnover at the sheriff’s department and EMS and so little done to address it. How much importance voters place on having a bunch of newbie first responders on the streets is definitely something the Watchdog will be interested in measuring.

If you are a current or former sheriff’s deputy or EMS worker, the Watchdog would like to hear your experiences and ideas about how to address turnover and morale. Feel free to leave a comment either below this story or in an e-mail by clicking on the contact link at the top of the blog. We also maintain a Google phone number you can call or text 24 hours a day at (716) 288-5373. If there’s no answer, be sure to leave a detailed message. You can always remain anonymous. And thank you for your service.