Retired Sheriff Murphy: Herzet ‘A Big Disappointment To Me’

By Lee White

Retired Butler County Sheriff Craig Murphy spoke to me for nearly an hour Thursday afternoon about the current sheriff’s race and Sheriff Kelly Herzet, the man who replaced him when health issues forced his retirement in 2011. Murphy agreed with my assertions that it is time for a change in leadership at the sheriff’s department.

“He’s been a big disappointment to me,” Murphy said of Herzet, whom he appointed undersheriff in 2009. “He wanted to be sheriff so bad and I knew it and so, you know, I thought we would have some time that I could teach him what’s going on and guide him to where he would be able to take over and, uh, you know, that wasn’t the plan God had.”

Murphy said he invited Herzet to his house to discuss issues within the department that needed to be addressed — including personnel matters involving supervisory staff — but that Herzet eventually stopped seeking his advice. Someone later showed Murphy a meme Herzet circulated on his phone depicting Murphy being blown up by a missile.

“I knew right then and there, well, you know what, here’s what’s gonna happen, he’s just dismissing everything I told him,” Murphy said. “And that’s not a big deal. I could live with that if that’s the way he was going to do things, but then what you’ve got is the next thing that comes that he drives off or fires 150 years of experience.”

Murphy referred to recent Watchdog blog posts concerning turnover, particularly in the road patrol section of the sheriff’s department and comments readers left that deputies felt as if they had “targets on their back.” Murphy said Herzet blamed the departures on low pay and a lack of dedication to the profession, but that the blame truly lies with management.

“Those people would still be working there today if I was still the sheriff,” Murphy said. “And I’m not bragging. I’ve been told that by these people. I have talked to several of them who have left and not a one of them left because of pay.

“It’s because they were made a target or the morale attitude down at that department was so far gone they could no longer deal with it. They were picked on in any manner they could including writing reports, leaving out commas and periods and just nonsensical things. You don’t throw 150 years worth of experience out the window for that.”

Murphy said members of the public have approached him an average of once a week since he left office asking him to come back or complaining about the current administration. He said he has referred people who were unhappy about criminal investigations to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation and the Kansas Attorney General’s Office.

Murphy said he was also approached by a woman who works for Butler County Attorney Darrin Devinney. The woman is from Germany.

“‘The sheriff and the administration of the sheriff’s office openly refer to me at the Nazi bitch,'” Murphy said the woman told him. “She said, ‘well, that’s not the whole story,’ so I said, ‘what’s the whole story?’ Well, apparently, Darrin Devinney had a, I’m going to use the term, a Latino working for him and she was referred to by the sheriff’s office as the Mexican snatch.”

Murphy told the woman to file a complaint with County Administrator Will Johnson, but he doesn’t know what became of it. One other source besides Murphy has given this account to me. I have e-mailed Devinney and Johnson concerning the matter and will publish whatever responses I receive.

Another situation I have heard about from multiple sources including Murphy is the January death of a prominent El Dorado businessman and bail bondsman who reportedly suffered a stroke in the lobby of the Butler County Jail. I have decided not to name him publicly out of respect for his surviving family members, but anyone who has been around El Dorado any length of time probably knows who I’m referring to.

According to Murphy and others, two jail deputies who were leaving work stepped over the man’s body and went home.

“But apparently the two jailers don’t recognize a body laying in the jail foyer and step over him, go home, and have to be called back in, and what I have heard is that Kelly found no wrongdoing,” Murphy said. “I’ve got a large, large problem with that.”

Murphy, who was sheriff when Kasie Ducharme died at the jail, said she didn’t receive proper medical care from the staff the department contracted with. He said he encouraged county commissioners to bring in a new provider, which meeting minutes from the period corroborate. Click here for the blog post about Ducharme’s death.

“I was not aware or flat don’t remember the part that you had in there and the answers that Herzet did on the investigation and I can assure you that if I’d have known that at the time, I’d have had a large problem with it,” Murphy said. “My comment would have probably been the same as yours: ‘Great work, detective!'”

In Herzet’s sworn deposition testimony from the Ducharme case, he said he may have briefed Murphy about his investigative findings, but never gave him a copy of his report. He also did not forward it to the county attorney, the attorney general, or the KBI. I originally published Herzet’s testimony in 2012.

Murphy also criticized a directive that deputies are not to back city police, saying he’s not sure whether the order remains in effect. Herzet has made inter-agency cooperation a cornerstone of both his election campaigns.

So who is Murphy backing for sheriff in the August 2 Republican primary? It’s Mike Holton, an El Dorado police sergeant who left the sheriff’s department as a road patrol lieutenant in 2014 after nearly 25 years. Murphy said Holton consults him frequently about the campaign and law enforcement matters.

“Mike Holton was with me, well, his whole career,” Murphy said. ” I was working there when Mike came in. Mike and I were about as close as you could say a boss should get with an employee, which is one of Kelly’s little problems, but Mike was one of my better lieutenants, and Mike paid a whole lot more attention to me than I thought he did.”

Murphy said there are aspects of a sheriff’s job that no one can understand until he is actually in the position.

“Really, the only thing a sheriff is is the janitor because it’s my job to go around cleaning up everyone else’s mess,” Murphy said. “Everything that occurs in the sheriff’s office that can go wrong falls on the sheriff himself whether anybody believes that’s fair or not, that falls on the sheriff himself. And you better be able to handle it, you better be able to deal with it, you better be able to live with it. And this is one thing that I’m not seeing with Kelly.

“If you look at Kelly’s website or Facebook page – whatever they call them – what you see is a lot of ‘me, me, me, me, me, me, me, look how wonderful I am. I’m the sheriff. I’m somebody.’ Well, the truth of the matter is, yeah, you’re somebody – not what you think somebody is – you’re nothing but the janitor. And it’s not your job to be the most popular guy in the county. It’s your job to keep law and order to the best of your ability, and with compassion, concern, and, you know, that just doesn’t come out of Kelly.”

Revisiting The Kasie Ducharme Jail Death Story

Note: This post was originally published on a blog I kept during the 2012 election cycle. I have updated some of the links.

By Lee White

Kasie Ducharme, a 27-year- old mother of three, was arrested by Augusta police the afternoon of June 21, 2007, on a probation violation warrant and taken to the Butler County Jail. Four days later, she was dead, the victim of an infection known as methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). Click here for some facts about MRSA from the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

In 2009, Ducharme’s mother, Dana Rogers, sued Butler County, Sheriff Craig Murphy, several deputies and jail medical staff, as well as Dr. Richard Kuhns, an El Dorado physician who, at the time, had a contract with the county to provide health care for inmates. The lawsuit was settled out of court on July 20, 2011. The county’s insurer paid $75,000, but the terms of the settlement with Dr. Kuhns and his company, El Dorado Internal Medicine, LLC, were confidential. None of the defendants admitted being at fault for Ducharme’s death.

Medical staff at the jail, including an advanced registered nurse practitioner — a nurse allowed to prescribe medications and order procedures under the supervision of a physician – a licensed practical nurse, and a certified nurse aide examined Ducharme at various times during her incarceration. A physician never examined her while she was in custody except for the one who pronounced her dead when she was taken by ambulance to Susan B. Allen Memorial Hospital in El Dorado the evening of June 25.

Legal and other public documents regarding Ducharme’s tragic death not only reveal an apparent failure to detect and treat a survivable illness, but they call into question the investigative procedures of current Butler County Sheriff Kelly Herzet, who was the lead detective assigned to the Ducharme case. The documents also show that Butler County Commissioners and County Administrator Will Johnson, took an active role in choosing jail health care providers, including terminating the contract with Dr. Kuhns in 2008. Under Kansas law, the sheriff is in charge of the jail; however, county commissioners hold the purse strings.

The facts presented in this story were obtained from two orders signed by U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Marten, who presided over the case, as well as the deposition of Herzet. A deposition is sworn testimony taken before trial in an attempt to discover the facts of the case. Butler County Commission minutes were also examined. Links to the documents appear below.

The Timeline

The day after arriving at the jail, Ducharme complained of right hip pain. She stated that she didn’t remember what happened to her hip. An examination noted “drug track marks” on both arms and that Ducharme reported using one gram of methamphetamine a day. At autopsy, however, the only drugs discovered in Ducharme’s system were Tylenol and Tramadol, painkillers she had been given at the jail, according to Herzet’s deposition.

Ducharme’s next request for medical treatment came at 3:34 a.m. June 24. Deputy Dana Burns sent Tamara Harper, the advanced registered nurse practitioner, this e-mail: “Ducharme #2520 In complaining of pain from her right knee up to her right hip. Her right knee is double the size of her left knee. No bruising that I can see, pulses are good in her foot and she was able to apply pressure to my hand and pulls against my hand with her foot. She stated she was seen by a nurse when she was booked in on the 21st.”

Jean Valentine, a licensed practical nurse, then examined Ducharme at about 9:30 a.m. Valentine noted that Ducharme’s knee was swollen and gave her some Motrin, a painkiller, and an ice pack.

Ducharme filled out a medical treatment request form at 11 p.m. stating, in part: “My leg is broke. I need to go to the hospital now I can’t take the pain any more it’s hurting my chest now. Please thanks, Kasie. What time and day did the injury or illness begin? Day I got arrested.” Marla Park, a certified nurse aide, then examined Ducharme.

In his June 1, 2011, order dismissing some of Rogers’ claims and allowing others to go to trial, Judge Marten wrote: “Initially she complained of chest pain and stated that her leg was broken. Park asked her why she was in medical and she stated, ‘I need to go to the hospital, I can’t breathe, my leg is broken, I want to stay in here, it’s cool, my chest hurts, you need to give me something for the pain, or take me to the hospital.’ However, she talked without distress and did not stop to take a breath. Ducharme further expressed her desire for medication because ‘there were lots of other women in the dorm that get all kinds of meds, and their leg isn’t hurting them and I want what they’re getting.’ Park explained to her that she could not just get any medicine she wanted. Ducharme then said ‘my leg is causing my chest to ache.’ Park asked if her chest was hurting and she said no. Park notified Harper, and they gave Ducharme 6 packets of Ibuprofen and an ice pack.”

Harper, the nurse practitioner, first examined Ducharme at about 9:30 a.m. June 25. Ducharme was taken to the jail medical facility in a wheelchair. In addition to leg pain, she complained of intermittent pain in her left lower rib and chest wall when she breathed in. Harper prescribed the painkillers Ibuprofen, Tramadol, and Tylenol, ice packs, and ordered an X-ray of Ducharme’s knee, which revealed no fracture.

After lunch, Ducharme, in a wheelchair, attended a court hearing before Butler County District Judge David Ricke. She was throwing up and told Ricke, “they’re being so mean and I asked to go to EMS and they won’t take me ‘cause they said they were low staff.” Ricke ordered that court staff send written communication to the jail to make sure Ducharme was getting the medical treatment she needed; however, there was a dispute as to whether the medical staff was ever notified of Ricke’s order.

“Deputy Chad Archer relieved (Deputy Michael) Schmidt from his shift at about 5:18 p.m. Before he left, Ducharme fell while walking to the restroom,” Judge Marten wrote. “April Blackburn and Amy Cain-Sudderth, inmates, testified that Schmidt laughed and told everyone not to help her up and that if she could not get up on her own she could ‘piss herself.’”

According to a footnote in Marten’s order, Schmidt was on a “period of reckoning” on the night Ducharme died. He had been suspended for three days and placed on probation for obtaining a female inmate’s telephone number about 10 months earlier.

Ducharme’s condition continued to worsen. About 6:30 p.m., a couple of inmates helped Ducharme take a shower. They had to carry her on a mat. She couldn’t hold her head up. Judge Marten’s order describes Kasie Ducharme’s final moments:

“At 8:03 p.m, Park paged Harper at her home and informed her Ducharme was complaining of increased pain and that her hands were purple, blotchy, and she was yellow in color. Harper left her house and arrived at the jail at 8:30 p.m. While waiting for Ducharme, Amy Cain, an inmate, informed Harper she had helped Ducharme shower earlier in the day because Ducharme had trouble standing. A jail deputy then notified Harper that Ducharme had fallen from the wheelchair and was lying on the floor in the doorway of the women’s dorm.

“Harper arrived at the women’s dorm and saw Ducharme lying supine on the floor, she was pale and dry. Her feet were blotchy and her oral membranes were dry. Her pulse was 80. Several other inmates told Harper Ducharme was ‘shooting Dilaudid’ and methamphetamine and that she was walking on her own at times that day. After yelling at her to get up, Harper assisted Ducharme to a sitting position and Corporal Torres transported her to the clinic in a wheelchair.

“In the exam room, Ducharme appeared weak and moaned in response to questions. As Harper lifted Ducharme to help her onto the bed, Ducharme became unresponsive with agonal respirations and no noticeable pulse. Harper yelled at her to get up, then moved her to the floor and began CPR. EMS was notified. EMS applied an Automated External Defibrillator to her and resuscitation efforts continued. EMS then transported Ducharme to the emergency room at Susan B. Allen Memorial Hospital, where Dr. Rundell and the emergency room staff assumed care until all resuscitation efforts ceased.”

At 9:44 p.m. June 25, 2007, Kasie Ducharme was pronounced dead. Survivors included her children, Kaylee, James, and Alexander, and her parents, Jeff and Dana Rogers, all of Augusta. There was a visitation and a private family funeral service.

El Dorado Internal Medicine’s own expert, Dr. David McKinsey, faulted Park, the certified nurse aide, and Harper, the advanced registered nurse practitioner, for deviating from the standard of care. McKinsey criticized Harper for failing to order a chest X-ray, send Ducharme to the emergency room for evaluation of chest pain, or characterize the right lower leg swelling at the morning appointment the day Kasie died. He said Harper should have called an ambulance when she was called to come to the jail and immediately upon seeing Ducharme after arriving at the jail. Although Ducharme had a 50 percent chance of survival 22 hours before her death, she still had “a reasonable shot at survival as late as 8:30 p.m.,” McKinsey testified.

The Investigation

Current Butler County Sheriff Kelly Herzet was a detective the night Kasie Ducharme died. Because he was on call, he became the lead investigator. He was a patrol deputy from 1984 until 1987 when he took a job at the Wolf Creek Nuclear Power Plant. Herzet then returned to patrol in 1993 before being promoted to detective in 2000. Then-Sheriff Craig Murphy appointed Herzet undersheriff in Dec. 2009. Dana Rogers’ attorney, Christian Webb, took a deposition from Herzet on March 1, 2010.

As undersheriff, Herzet was responsible for jail operations and had an office at the jail, which is located just east of El Dorado. Herzet estimated that he had been involved in “probably a hundred” death investigations, including four homicides, during his law enforcement career. He testified that this was his first investigation of a jail death.

Herzet testified that Kansas Bureau of Investigation agent Randy Ewy assisted with the investigation, but did not take an active role. The Kansas Legislature passed a law effective July 1, 2004, requiring the KBI to investigate all inmate deaths. The next year, the Legislature amended the law so that the KBI was not required to investigate inmate deaths if an autopsy, preliminary autopsy report, or death certificate determined a death was from natural causes, or if the inmate had received regular care from a licensed physician, according to an Associated Press story from August 21, 2005.

In his questioning, Webb focused on the manner in which Herzet gathered his information. None of the interviews with inmates or staff was recorded despite the fact that the sheriff’s department has an interview room equipped with audio and video equipment at its offices on South Gordy in El Dorado, as well as portable recording equipment. Herzet also did not ask nurse practitioner Tamara Harper to fill out a written report as he had done with inmates and jail deputies.

WEBB: And did you ask Nurse Harper to fill out a written statement?

HERZET: Nurse Harper told me it would be easier for her just to walk me through her documented medical chart to do my interview.

WEBB: And was that in response to your request for a written statement?

HERZET: I don’t remember if I asked her to do a written statement. She told me her medical record would speak for itself and tell the story.

A bit later in the deposition, Webb asked whether Herzet had inquired about medical tests Harper had ordered or consultation with other providers about Ducharme’s condition.

WEBB: So in your interview with Nurse Harper, did you ask her any questions about what testing was undertaken or did you just listen?

HERZET: I just listened to what she had to say.

WEBB: After you got what she had to say, was there any follow-up with another medical provider independent of Nurse Harper to ascertain —

HERZET: No, sir.

WEBB: — what was done? No?

HERZET: No.

WEBB: Did Nurse Harper explain who she works for or where she works?

HERZET: No, and I didn’t ask.

WEBB: Did Nurse Harper explain whether or not she consulted with anyone on Ms. Ducharme’s treatment on June 25th, 2007?

HERZET: I don’t know and I didn’t ask.

WEBB: Did you essentially open up your note pad and write down what she told you about Kasie Ducharme’s care?

HERZET: Yes.

Herzet testified he neither interviewed Dr. Kuhns, Harper’s employer, nor obtained a copy of the agreement for Kuhns’ company to provide inmate health care at the jail. When Herzet was done with his investigation, its findings didn’t go much further.

WEBB: Who did you submit your investigation to when you were complete — when it was completed?

HERZET: To the file. You mean for review or for — I didn't refer it to anyone. It went into the file.

WEBB: It went to your file in the Butler County Sheriff's Office?

HERZET: Yes.

WEBB: Was it forwarded to anyone for review of any kind?

HERZET: Not that I recall.

WEBB: Wasn’t submitted to the attorney general’s office?

HERZET: No.

WEBB: Wasn’t submitted to the Butler County District Attorney’s office?

HERZET: No.

WEBB: Was it provided to Sheriff Murphy?

HERZET: I might have briefed Sheriff Murphy afterwards, but, no, he didn’t review the file.

WEBB: When your investigation was completed, it went physically into a file folder?

HERZET: Correct.

County Commission’s Role

Dr. Richard Kuhns’ company El Dorado Internal Medicine, LLC, provided inmate health care at the current Butler County Jail from the time it opened in 2003 until 2008. The Feb. 18, 2003, commission minutes indicate he was paid $230,880 a year. On Jan. 7, 2008, Kuhns, Harper, and then-Sheriff Craig Murphy attended a meeting of the Butler County Commission.

“Dr. Kuhns stated that Ms. Harper has done a superb job and spends at least 40 hours per week providing health care at the jail, while the minimum is 20 hours,” according to the meeting minutes. “Ms. Harper updated the Board on the scope of care, services provided, and pharmaceutical costs. Commissioner (Randy) Waldorf asked about attracting inmates because the county provides a high level of medical care on site. Ms. Harper said other counties and the U.S. Marshals do send inmates with medical needs to us because of the onsite medical care.”

Later in the meeting, Commissioner Jeff Masterson discussed “talking to Dr. Kuhns about medical staffing at the jail.”

On June 2, 2008, Murphy presented two bids from separate Peoria, Ill.-based companies to provide inmate health care at the jail. At the June 23, 2008, meeting, Commissioner Mike Wheeler reported Dr. Kuhns was interested in the contract for the jail. County Administrator Will Johnson asked Wheeler to share that with Murphy. Commissioners on Aug. 25, 2008, authorized Murphy to pursue a contract with Advanced Correctional Health Care, Inc., of Peoria, Ill., to be the new provider. Commissioners approved the five-year contract on Oct. 14, 2008, and instructed Johnson to terminate the contract with Dr. Kuhns. Advanced’s annual fee is $374,827, although the county sometimes receives a partial rebate. Advanced is apparently still providing services at the jail today.

Kasie Ducharme’s mother didn’t file her lawsuit against the county until June 22, 2009, so it’s unclear whether her daughter’s death played a role in county commissioners’ decision to change jail health care providers. Sheriff Murphy retired April 17, 2011, and the governor, on recommendation of the Butler County Republican Central Committee, appointed Herzet sheriff. Herzet is seeking his first term as the elected sheriff.

The Documents

Sheriff Kelly Herzet’s Deposition

Dana Rogers’ Federal Claim Against Butler County

Judge Marten’s Memorandum and Order of Summary Judgment

Judge Marten’s Journal Entry of Settlement

Official minutes of the Butler County Commission referred to in the story:

February 18, 2003, Butler County Commission minutes

January 7, 2008, Butler County Commission minutes

Monday, June 2, 2008, Butler County Commission minutes

Monday, August 25, 2008, Butler County Commission minutes

October 14, 2008, Butler County Commission minutes

Tuesday, October 5, 2010, Butler County Commission minutes

 

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.

Rose Hill Commute Could Get Thornier

IMG_20160610_171650297
Looking north on Butler Road toward Southwest 150th
IMG_20160610_171839595
Looking west on Southwest 150th toward Butler Road

It probably won’t happen until 2019, but a roundabout is in the pipeline for Southwest 150th and Butler Road. Click here to view a Google map of the intersection. Here’s some background from the Butler County Times-Gazette.

Roundabouts are designed to make intersections safer by slowing traffic. Southwest 150th becomes 47th Street South a mile west at the Sedgwick County line.

So what do you think? Are you in favor of a roundabout at Southwest 150th and Butler Road? Take our poll and let Butler County Commissioners know!