The Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office has far exceeded its overtime budget in the past six years, according to a management audit coming up for review at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors session. In this fiscal year alone, it spent $150 million on overtime, about two-and-a-half times more than the $60 million initially allocated, primarily on jail staff.
Supervisor Joe Simitian introduced a proposal calling for a deeper analysis of the past five fiscal years to find out why overtime spending under Sheriff Laurie Smith has “consistently and increasingly” surpassed budgeted allocations.
“Such analysis should include an explanation of the reasons for the persistent divergence of overtime spending from budgeted overtime, any resulting impacts to the general fund, and general information about any comparable budget overages in other county departments,” Simitian wrote in a memo to the board. “If this inquiry leads us to conclude revisions to the budget or budget process are necessary, the proposed report back schedule should allow the board and administration to make any adjustments in time for them to be included in the [fiscal year 2019] mid-year budget review and as part of the [fiscal year 2020] budget process.”
A report issued last week by the county’s Management Audit Division showed that the Sheriff’s Office saw a shortfall of $13.2 million this past fiscal year and $11.9 million in 2017. It also showed that overtime pay comprised 74 percent of this year’s budget gap and 28.5 percent the year prior. Of the 72 sheriff’s employees who made more than $75,000 in overtime this past year, 60 worked in jails and custody health.
“The bottom line is that in recent years, staffing and contractual services costs for correctional functions have risen sharply, resulting in the need for budget modifications for salaries and benefits and services and supplies in the final days of the fiscal year,” audit manager Cheryl Solov wrote in a memo to the five-member board. “These required budget modifications are exclusive to correctional functions—the Department of Correction and the sheriff’s correctional staffing contract—and have not affected the Sheriff’s Office enforcement bureau.”
Later in the memo, Solov added: “These figures raise questions about whether overtime work hours could be distributed more broadly, and the potential for overwork to negatively affect staff performance.”
The budget analysis comes as Smith faces a heated re-election battle against her former second-in-command, retired Undersheriff John Hirokawa, who cited the county’s analysis as evidence of the sheriff’s mismanagement.
County Executive Jeff Smith agreed, telling the Merc Sunday that any non-elected official exceeding budgeted overtime by that much would “risk losing their job.”
Lt. Amy Le, however, called their reaction disingenuous.
For one thing, overtime spending has been soaring at law enforcement agencies throughout the state and ticked up at local jails after 2011 reforms pushed thousands of prison inmates to county supervision. In this county, Le added, the overtime budget has been authorized by the elected board to cover additional training and work required by reforms implemented in the wake of the 2015 murder of inmate Michael Tyree by three correctional deputies. Le—president of the county Correctional Peace Officers’ Association, which supports Sheriff Smith’s re-election—was the highest overtime earner.
Smith echoed Le’s defense.
“As sheriff, I have instituted my strong jail reform plan with a significant dedication of resources to mental health and [American Disabilities Act] improvements,” she said in an emailed statement. “This reform plan has had the full support of county administration and the Board of Supervisors. To implement my plan, we made the decision, in coordination with county administration, to begin reforms utilizing overtime until our plan is approved, analyzed, and fully implemented.”
Sheriff Smith also noted that the county’s analysis left out some important factors.
“The report failed to take into consideration the deliberate decisions and direction the county instituted years ago,” she said. “Neither the Sheriff’s Office nor County Executive’s Office were consulted on this report. Any conclusions from this report would be a gross misrepresentation of the county’s budget plan for the Sheriff’s Office.”
This article has been updated.
- Three years after Tyree’s death, the county is finally poised to establish a committee to evaluate prospective contractors to provide independent oversight of the jails. The 13-member evaluation committee will consider finalists selected through a solicitation process to determine who will lead the Office of Correction and Law Enforcement Monitoring. The committee will then report its recommendation to the board by the end of November.
- The county will consider allocating $11.8 million to bring its jails into compliance with federal disability access laws and to build barriers and other infrastructure to prevent suicides.
- Supervisor Ken Yeager wants to conduct an inventory of the region’s retro signs and neon way-markers, such as those for Lou’s Village, Keystone Coffee, Orchard Supply Hardware and Stephen’s Meats. “Rapid development in San Jose is threatening many of the neon signs and other pieces of roadside vernacular that are part of the fabric of the county’s history over the past half-century or more,” Yeager wrote in a memo to his colleagues. He added: “We need an inventory of these signs so that local officials will be able to make informed decision about future development. Today’s action will produce a permanent record of these vital pieces of postwar Santa Clara County culture. The results of the evaluation could be used to designate a district or help promote place-making or streetscape improvements.” Yeager has long advocated for historic preservation in the South Bay, leading the county to preserve the Cambrian Park Plaza carousel by granting it historic status in 2016. Just this year, Yeager did the same for the Burbank Theater marquee.
- Plans to demolish the Old City Hall Annex were delayed by a month or so amid public pressure led by prominent local developer James Salata to convert it into a transitional shelter for the homeless instead of a parking lot. But the demolition contract is coming back to the board this week for final approval. The county contends that the facility built in the 1970s is beyond its useful life after more than a decade of neglect. Salata, however, disputes the county’s estimate that it would take up to $100 million to salvage and says he and philanthropist John Sobrato could donate $32 million to turn the building into shelter for about 160 homeless people.
- The county will consider granting $230,000 in additional funding to the Rapid Response Network, a hotline offering round-the-clock support for families threatened by deportation. Increasing the allocation would bring the county’s total funding for the effort to $380,559. The network dispatches about three to five attorneys on average per month to provide legal consultations and same-day representation for people summoned to immigration court. In this fiscal year alone, the hotline has received more than 3,000 calls and offered support to 36 families affected by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids.
WHAT: Board of Supervisors meets
WHEN: 9:30am Tuesday
WHERE: County Government Center, 70 W. Hedding St., San Jose
INFO: City Clerk, 408.299.5001