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Wednesday, March 22, 2017
Blogger Comments: Stinging words from Decatur Daily Editorial.
This is what happens when you lie, cheat, and steal the public you were sworn to serve and protect.
elected officials must be feeling the same sting from Ana’s deceit as well. They have worked with and believed in Sheriff
Ana Franklin. She has let all of us
down. We have all been betrayed.
Sheriff has problem with contempt, Decatur Daily Editorial, March 22, 2017
Sheriff Ana Franklin’s arguments to a federal court about her use of inmate food money are disturbing. Whether or not she showed contempt for the court, she failed to respect the trust placed in her by Morgan County citizens.
Sheriff Ana Franklin’s recent arguments to a federal court may carry the day legally, but they raise serious issues for her constituents.
In 2009, the former sheriff, Greg Bartlett, entered into a consent decree that was signed by federal District Judge U.W. Clemon. A consent decree means what it says — both sides agreed to it before the judge issued the order. The decree was absolutely clear: “The Sheriff of Morgan County shall immediately establish and implement a procedure whereby all funds provided by any source for the feeding of inmates ... will be used exclusively for the feeding of said inmates ... .”
It was a significant order because it changed, for Morgan County, the archaic state law allowing sheriffs to keep excess taxpayer-funded inmate food money for themselves. It effectively decreased the maximum possible salary for the Morgan County sheriff.
Franklin understood this. Before taking office, she asked former county attorney Bill Shinn if the order applied to her. His answer: Yes. He referenced a federal rule stating she would automatically became a party to the consent decree when she became the sheriff. Bartlett couldn’t pocket money that was designated for inmate food, and neither could she.
But Franklin did it anyway. She loaned $150,000 from the inmate food account for a personal investment, a loan to an auto dealership run by a convicted felon. The company went bankrupt, and the previously convicted felon is now facing more charges. It’s hard to overstate the poor judgment that went into the sheriff’s decision.
On Friday, Franklin’s lawyers filed a brief seeking to explain why their client should not be held in contempt of the 2009 consent decree. While Franklin had previously said the ill-fated loan to the car dealership was from “savings for retirement,” her lawyers acknowledged Friday it had come from the food account. And even though they said she had every right to spend that money as her own, they also noted she had since replenished the account with her own money. The lawyers proceeded to make some reasonable arguments. The order agreed to in 2009 was too broad, they said. Bartlett, desperate to extricate himself from an earlier order naming a previous sheriff, had promised too much. It’s unfair to hold Franklin to a consent decree that was agreed to by her predecessor when he was desperate, they complained.
Time will tell whether the court is convinced by Friday’s brief, but the sheriff’s constituents have reason to be troubled.
Before Franklin even started the job, she had received advice from the county attorney that the inmate food money was not hers. State law did not matter; a specific federal order controlled use of the money in Morgan County.
Franklin had options.
One, she could have settled for her $68,000-per-year salary. If the salary was inadequate, she shouldn’t have campaigned for the job.
Two, she could have made precisely the same arguments to the court that her lawyers made Friday, but made them before she spent the taxpayer-funded money. She could have petitioned the court to amend or vacate the 2009 order, explaining that it was too cumbersome. She could have argued, as her lawyers did after the fact, that she was feeding the inmates adequately and that the consent decree was too broad.
Such an effort would have been public, though. It would have been embarrassing. And, significantly, the court might have turned her down.
So Franklin did not ask. She just took the money, like a kid raiding the cookie jar figuring it was easier to ask forgiveness if discovered than to ask permission. She rejected public records requests from The Decatur Daily, and her claim that the money was from retirement savings was, at best, misleading.
The judge will have to decide whether Franklin was in contempt of court. Either way, she showed considerable contempt for the voters and taxpayers who trusted her to be the county’s chief law enforcement officer.