Welcome aboard for the last official column for 2009. Next week will be number one for 2010, but first we must get through the Christmas holiday season.
This is not the season to be square. In fact round is a much more typical shape this time of the year. We have some good news this week, so I need to get started.
The first item on the agenda today is to mention that this morning (Saturday, Dec. 19) the annual Shop with a Cop event took place at our local Wal-Mart. I believe that slightly over 160 needy kids had some big smiles this morning as they shopped till they dropped. Unfortunately, I missed the event for the first time because I woke up sick this morning and decided not to poison the other people with my germs. I am told that all went well. We will soon start planning for the 2010 Shop with a Cop event.
At long last, we been advised by the feds that we now have spending approval for the jail grant that was announced many months ago. Under the terms of the grant, we can hire five new members for the jail staff. This comes none too soon because we had another jail staff member quit this week. We had one prospect waiting for the grant to open up so we could hire him, but he will now move into the vacancy and we will go looking for more new people. My hope is that this grant will allow us to provide better service in the jail and cut our overtime down in a big way.
In other good news, the sales tax revenue for the county is up by about five percent. That is a very rough figure because the year is not yet over and some of the finance data is not firm. The people in the office of the Pulaski County Clerk are working hard to finish out the payment year and line all the expense data up so we can see where we are for the year. Right now, based on very slender figures, it does appear that the sheriff’s office did much better than I expected with our yearly expense. Right now I am sort of crossing my fingers and waiting.
Also, we have more good news. I just got off the phone with Maj. Tom Cristoffer, our chief deputy and vehicle mechanic; we had purchased a wrecked car last week that we thought we could put together with a minimum of expense. We paid $3,200 for a 2006 Ford Crown Victoria with only 34,000 miles. The vehicle had crossed swords with a deep ditch and a barbed wire fence. When we sized the car up, we knew that we had the parts that would need to be replaced in our bone yard and we could put them on the vehicle. The only real expense was the full body paint job that would be needed. Our fear was that we would find deeper flaws from the ditch wreck and would need to expend more money. Our panel of vehicle experts had given the car a very close look before the purchase and they did not think that would happen. Cristoffer’s news today was that after replacing the wheels and doing a proper front end alignment, it turns out the panel was correct. It drives like a dream and no unexpected additional repairs will be needed, so we have a new vehicle for the fleet with only 34,000 miles! In our world this car is not only new it is still under assembly at the Ford plant in Michigan. Boy is there going to be a fight on for this car among the troops.
In other news, by now most of you have heard the news reports on the plea agreement made by Pulaski County Prosecutor Deborah Hooper in the case of the subject who shot Deputy Don Hayden four times last year. The defendant entered a plea Friday for two back-to-back 25-year sentences, along with four other concurrent sentences. In return, Hooper dropped eight other charges. Right up front, everyone needs to understand that Hooper did consult with Hayden on the plea. I do not know if Hooper plans any kind of press release on this case, but I can tell you that Hayden is very pleased with the plea. He was the second, and I hope the last, deputy to be shot during my term in office. I am very pleased to still have him around to bug me.
In other court news, on Friday afternoon we had a special sentencing hearing in our Pulaski County Circuit Court that followed a conviction in a Dent County murder case from 1982. This very cold case was solved in 2008 and charges were filed. The trial was held in Phelps County recently and the jury found him guilty. Emotion on both family sides had run high during the trial so we had a total of 13 officers, uniformed and plain clothes, in the courtroom for the sentence hearing. We did not have any problems with family members.
As I near the end of the column, I do not seem to have any other news to pass along. I would like to wish all of you a very happy holiday season. Please drive with care for this is a very bad time of the year to end up in the hospital after a silly car wreck. Please keep your actions legal for this is also a bad time of the year to visit the crossbar hotel. As I said last week, our Christmas spirit in the jail is somewhat dull this year, but the lights do work and they are bright.