PARKERSBURG - Wood County Sheriff Jeff Sandy and Chief Law Enforcement Deputy Don Dougherty requested county commissioners meet in executive session Monday.
Sandy cited an exemption to the state's Open Meetings Law which allows closed door meetings to discuss personnel matters, as his reason for requesting making the request.
Wood County Prosecutor Jason Wharton said he was presented with the issues Sandy wished to discuss earlier.
Photo by Pamela Brust
Current chief law enforcement deputy Don Dougherty and newly appointed chief deputy Lt. Shawn Graham along with newly elected sheriff Ken Merritt, who will take office Jan. 1, and Wood County Prosecutor Jason Wharton discuss concerns following an executive session Monday with county commissioners.
"Some qualify for discussion in executive session if the sheriff wishes to do so, some may not," Wharton told commissioners.
Sheriff-Elect Ken Merritt, who will take office Jan. 1, and Lt. Shawn Graham, who Merritt has designated to be his chief law enforcement deputy, asked to be allowed in the executive session.
"If it concerns the sheriff's office, I think the new sheriff needs to know about it," Graham said.
"We are caught in the middle on this, the sheriff's intent was just to talk to us," said commissioner Wayne Dunn.
Wharton told the commissioners the decision about who would be in the session was up to them.
"If you don't want the new sheriff here, I can advise him later of any issues that need brought to his attention," Wharton said.
Commissioner Steve Gainer said he had no objection to allowing all the officials to remain for the executive session.
The commissioners, Sandy, Dougherty, Merritt, Graham and Wharton then went behind closed doors for about 30 minutes.
Following the executive session, Sandy recommended the commissioners consider policies on personal use of county vehicles.
"We had this issue in 2008. There was a lot of concern about county vehicles being used for personal use, like taking kids to school and so forth. We talked to the insurance carrier and were advised it is a liability issue for the county. We sent out email advising everyone of the ruling. The ethics commission provided us with an opinion that the sheriff can use his county vehicle while running for office," Sandy said.
"One thing I would recommend is that you consider a countywide policy relating to this issue. As far as I'm aware there is currently no countywide policy. We have made that part of the sheriff's department policy, but the other offices may not have it," Sandy said.
Wharton noted the matter was discussed when issues relating to fringe benefits for employees were discussed earlier with the Internal Revenue Service.
"I'm not aware of another policy other than possibly under the safety/loss policy," Wharton said.
"It was always my understanding part of allowing the deputies to take their vehicles home was to get more exposure for law enforcement in the community," Gainer said.
"We have been informed by the insurance carrier that the county is 100 percent liable for any non-county employee in the vehicle," said county administrator Marty Seufer.
"Part of the reasoning for allowing them to take the vehicles home was that they would have the ability to respond faster and there was the potential savings in time and gas because the deputies didn't have to go into the office from their homes to start their patrol. We can adopt a countywide policy or the offices that have vehicles can adopt it anytime," Commissioner Blair Couch said.
"We have sometimes received heat for denying use of a county vehicle, but we also saved on gasoline expenses since 2009, so we would recommend it," Sandy said.
Dougherty noted the department has a ride along program and an internship program with area universities. "Those individuals waive liability when they participate," he said. "But I don't know how good that waiver is in terms of actual liability if there was a court case."
"We've had a ride along program as long as I've been in the department, I think it's a good program," Graham said. Dougherty agreed.
"I feel uncomfortable with issues that are still outstanding," Sandy told the commissioners.
Couch advised Sandy if he had other concerns to meet privately with Wharton.
"You can meet with Jason and if needed, he can get back to the county commission," Couch said.