As we discussed in “The Darr Documents, Part 1; Curing the Overruns,” Chuck Williams interviewed Sheriff John Darr for the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer on June 28th, 2015. Having covered the disparity between what Darr says and what the numbers say about his budget overruns, I’m now going to take a look at 3 more topics covered in that interview; the discrimination judgment against Darr, his version of the events that led of to his current litigation against the taxpayers of Columbus, and the litigation itself. Once again, I will compare Darr’s answers and Mayor Tomlinson’s response to the documents and numbers to see if we can make some sense of all this.
The discrimination case, and ultimate judgment against Sheriff Darr was one of the more unseemly chapters in Columbus politics in the last few years. And yet, Sheriff Darr doesn’t seem to have reflected much on what the court determined he did wrong. This is what he had to say to Chuck Williams:
“Williams: As you look back, you’ve had personnel matters. And I guess any sheriff or any administrator in city government is going to have personnel matters. But you have had some personnel matters that have ended up in litigation. Were you prepared for that when you started that job?”
“Darr: No, you don’t expect that.”
“Williams: As you have worked through, you had a lawsuit where a federal judge ordered you to make a promotion from within the department.”
“Williams: And you have done that, right?”
“Darr: Oh, yessir.”
“Williams: Did that lawsuit that was brought by three female deputies, ending up to be two, did that lawsuit damage this department in any way?”
“Darr: Yeah, I believe it did a little bit at the time. I think like a lot of things, time heals a lot of stuff.”
“For me, it did not. And when you say damage, it would be my relationship with those involved or anybody. … And you know me, Chuck. In this position, you cannot let things like that affect you. At the end of the day, you still have to do what is best for the Muscogee County Sheriff’s office and going about our job.”
“Now, when I say yes, I think for some individuals within the sheriff’s office, their names were mentioned during the lawsuit, they might have some ill will or ill feelings toward the individual. But, I don’t think it’s much. You don’t hear anyone talking about it anymore.”
“Williams: Is the department stronger or weaker as a result of those lawsuits?”
“Darr: Stronger or weaker, I don’t know. That’s a good question, Chuck. I wish I could give you a better answer. I don’t think it’s weaker, but would I sit here and say that it’s stronger? I don’t know that I would say it’s stronger.”
Behind the clown pants stories
, there are a few things the public should take away from this episode. Let’s start with the fact that part of Darr’s defense team, which the city paid for, came from Page Scrantom. I find it pretty remarkable that the same guy who was so happy to have representation with a specialty in the type of lawsuit against him THEN, now criticizes the city for taking the same measures to protect the citizens FROM him. That alone just floors me.
But there was something a judge said in dismissing some of the charges against Darr that I find particularly interesting. Two of the plaintiffs alleged that Darr took retaliatory acts against them because they had supported his political opposition. One of the plaintiffs claimed she was demoted in May 2010 and told by a supervisor that Darr “wanted her out of uniform,” ordering her to dress in civilian clothes from then on and stripping her of her right to carry a service weapon. The suit stated that the plaintiff retained arrest power, but she could no longer wear the Sheriff’s Office uniform (affecting her ability to earn money part-time). Judge Land ruled
that because of the nature of the relationship between a sheriff and his or her deputies, requiring political loyalty as a job requirement does not violate the Constitution. In other words, it’s OK if Darr took revenge on them because of their politics. Again…pretty interesting coming from a guy who likes to insinuate that other elected officials are playing politics.
And lastly, I’m deeply disturbed by the Sheriff’s lack of reflection on the legal judgment that he had indeed discriminated against career officers based on their gender. I am left to wonder if his record of promoting officers is now more equitable than the first 20 months of his administration: 21 of 22 promotions going to men, 2 women demoted and replaced by men, and 2 women found by the Superior Court to be passed over for promotion based on their gender. What does Sheriff Darr have to say? “…You cannot let things like that affect you” coupled with what I assume is some empathy for the male officer promoted over the 2 plaintiffs. Really? When the court says you have discriminated and retaliated against your own employees…maybe you need to think on that long enough to affect how you go forward.
Despite the fact that Darr said he didn’t have anything to say about his current lawsuit against the citizens of Columbus, he went on to say quite a bit. Unfortunately, much of what he said just doesn’t match up with the documents.
“Williams: You just went through a budget process where the proposed budget by Mayor Tomlinson recommended eight of your investigators be transferred to the Columbus Police Department. Do you feel that was a fair request on her part?”
“Darr: No, I do not.”
“Williams: Why, Sheriff?”
“Darr: I don’t think it was fair because she never came down and sat in this office and really educated herself on the duties of the investigators in the Muscogee County Sheriff’s office.”
Wait…what? All I have to go on is the discussion that took place in Council around this subject and the supplemental documents in the budgetary process. The Mayor was very clear that she was merely trying to identify redundancies, and in that effort sought to align as much of our county law enforcement’s investigative services as possible to create efficiencies. In documenting the reason and rationale for that shift, she exhibited a pretty firm grasp on the differences and similarities between the Columbus Police Investigation Division and the Sheriff’s investigators. It didn’t strike me as an issue of fairness so much as the Mayor providing Council with some viable options to consider in their Herculean task of passing a balanced budget for the city. Regardless. Council made their decision and there was no change made. Their decision was largely based on a video Darr claims didn’t cost the taxpayers a dime because he made it “in-house.” Tell me if I’m wrong, but the last time I checked Sheriff Darr’s whole “house” is taxpayer-funded.
But then Sheriff Darr made some allegations that the record shows, beyond the shadow of a doubt, are false. This is what Sheriff Darr had to say to Chuck Williams about his current litigation against the city:
“Williams: Can there be a resolution to this, from your perspective, before any more money is spent on this case? Is there a way to resolve it?”
“Darr: Yes, I think so. I wish the judge had forced us into mediation from the get-go. I really do. I still think this could be worked out. I thought it back then; I think it now. I wish we were there.”
“Williams: The citizens are the ones footing the bill for this.”
“Darr: That’s right. That’s unfortunate.”
This is what Mayor Tomlinson said in her response
to Darr’s accusations:
“The Sheriff said he wishes the legal matters had been mediated, not litigated, though he initiated the litigation. As the Ledger is aware, CCG urged the lawyers for the Sheriff’s Office in writing to mediate these claims before they were filed. The Sheriff’s lawyers refused.”
From Sheriff Darr’s interview:
Williams: Are you taking it personal?
Darr: No. I do not take it personal. I think you have two individuals that really think differently about what’s required and the amount needed to run the sheriff’s office.
Williams: The two individuals are who?
Darr: The Mayor and me. And it is no different when she suggested removing eight of the investigators.
Williams: Was that personal?
Darr: I would hope not. You would have to ask her and she would say no, but I would hope it is not. I hope she was thinking that what was in the big picture for the city was what was best.
Well…that’s just it. Just saying this lawsuit filed against the Mayor, every individual member of Columbus City Council, the Columbus Consolidated Government, AND the taxpayers of Columbus is *just* about the Mayor and the Sheriff indicates he thinks this is personal. I’m sure a few members of Council probably think of it as personal since Darr had his lawyers name them individually, putting the family finances of these part-time legislators in the mix. Columbus City Council is the body that debated and appropriated the MCSO budget, not the Mayor. The fact that Darr would characterize it in this way speaks to just how personal he thinks it is.
And, frankly, it makes me feel compelled to note that Darr stopped having time for his publicly scheduled, monthly meeting with the Mayor. It looks like Darr quit going just about the same time there was that big dust-up between Darr, the Mayor and Council over that 2nd county firing range Darr just *had* to have. The firing range that I can only presume is the reason our Sheriff’s Office has to buy enough ammunition to invade Phenix City. The Sheriff can say it isn’t personal all he wants, and he can reassure us all day long that he isn’t in the least bit stressed out about his lawsuit against the taxpayers, but I am afraid his deeds may belie his words
And that. my friends, brings us to that pesky…
Calm down, I’m not going to be going through all the litigation documents today. It is far too voluminous, and I love you enough not to subject you to that. The documents relating to all four cases can be found here
, scroll down and the documents regarding the Darr lawsuit are in the second grouping. What I am going to do here is try to boil it down for you. I’m sure that the legal nuances of both the plaintiff’s and the defendant’s cases will suffer in my summary, but there are some broad strokes that I think are important to know.
Two of the basic principles Darr is attacking in his lawsuit are executive budgetary responsibilities and the democratic appropriation of civic funds via a local governing body. It is a LONG held principle of executive responsibility that the elected executive in any governing body has the *responsibility* to offer an overall budget to the legislative body for consideration. It is part of the classic checks and balances system of our government that is present at all levels of governance. It is up to the executive, in our case the Mayor, to offer a budget that is mindful of the overall financial health of the municipality. Sheriff Darr is challenging that function of the executive, and says that the Mayor has *NO* option but to submit the budget requests that he is legally bound to submit as her recommended budget. They are hinging this position on a charter (our local version of the Constitution) provision they have cherry-picked and interpreted in isolation from the totality of the document. As a matter of fact, the provision is found in the last section of the Charter titled General Provisions, and not in the sections governing executive authority or municipal financial responsibilities. Secondly, he is saying that Columbus City Council must accept his budget requests without revision. In Darr’s interpretation of local government, Council must fund him at the level he requests regardless of the impact of that on the overall budget or the financial health of the city. Obviously, this is a recipe for utter chaos. If Council had to defer to Darr’s requests, then they have to defer to every other department’s requests too. We only have *so* much money, and as I have discussed in previous blogs, ,municipal finance is where the rubber meets the road. Our city budget MUST balance. We can’t print more money, we can’t pass the costs on to someone else.
Without a doubt, the documents detailing the progress of this litigation cast a disturbing light on the tenuous grasp Darr and his attorney’s seem to have on the realities and legalities of municipal budgeting. The documents bear out the following description by the Mayor:
“It was obvious from the start that the Sheriff and his legal counsel were unaware of, or confused by, his budget and the actual budget process used by the city. This confusion led to the Sheriff initially suing the city and taxpayers for over $800,000 less than he had actually been appropriated.”
“He also initially demanded that the city reinstate his prior year’s budget, which was some $400,000 less than that of the Fiscal Year 2015 budget he filed suit over.”
“These examples and many more misunderstandings by the Sheriff and his counsel resulted in the Sheriff having to file five sets of repeatedly amended pleadings, adding and dismissing claims as their “trial by error” method of litigation cost the taxpayer hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
Sheriff Darr took great care in this interview to try to separate himself from the other three plaintiffs currently engaged in lawsuits against the taxpayers of Columbus. Maybe that is because, quite recently, Marshal Countryman’s attorney made a shocking admission in a letter accompanying their last-minute withdrawal of a writ of mandamus. Mayor Tomlinson read the letter in a Council meeting
(at about the 19 minute mark, or watch the whole thing for a quick primer on the lawsuits against the city). Countryman’s attorney basically admits that the entire purpose behind the litigation was to get Council’s “attention” regarding budget concerns. Yeah…launching litigation without a firm basis in law with the goal of intimidating a legislative body or swaying a favorable legislative outcome from a legislative body has a name. It’s called abuse of process
. Given the contrived interpretation of the Columbus Charter, one has to wonder if the same sort of motivation isn’t what led the other plaintiffs down this path, as well.
Finally, near the end of the interview, Williams and Darr have the following exchange:
“Williams: Are you willing to sit down in a room with no lawyers with you and the mayor and try to figure this out?”
“Darr: Yes, I am, but I don’t know what the attorneys for the city would say or the attorneys for me would say.”
“Williams: Just the two of you sitting down in a room and trying to figure it out.”
“Darr: No doubt. Oh, yessir.”
“Williams: What’s the obstacle (to) that happening?”
“Darr: Right now, I think it would be the one we’re talking about. What the attorney for her would say and what the attorney for me would say. But from my perspective, I’m willing to do that, have always been willing to do that. And if you talked to people in this community, I think that’s what they would expect — I’m not just saying that — if you go out in this community and talk to the ones that follow this a little bit…”
I feel pretty sure Sheriff Darr isn’t going to do *anything* that his lawyers don’t want him to do. I’ve already established he didn’t show up for mediation to try and avoid the lawsuit. I’ve also established that he has a standing meeting with the Mayor every single month that he is choosing not to attend. I’d wager the attorneys aren’t going to be present for that monthly meeting, what is stopping Sheriff Darr from going? And “the one we’re talking about’? WTH?? It’s hard to believe this isn’t personal for a guy who can’t even bring himself to speak Mayor Tomlinson’s name in an interview with the press.
Please drop this lawsuit against the taxpayers, Sheriff Darr. Enough is enough. Let’s all grow up and start focusing on the issues that really matter to the future of this city. Let’s quit wasting money and time we don’t have the luxury of wasting. I think Columbus has spent more than enough money to help fight your legal battles, and to defend ourselves and our tax dollars from lawsuits on your behalf.
Let’s put this behind us and face our challenges together. Wouldn’t that be a nice change?
Peace and Love Yall,