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Notes from the Hustings

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High Flyers

It was a particularly warm yet partly cloudy Saturday morning at Murray Field outside Eureka. A variety of single-prop planes spread across the tarmac. If there was an award for unique fundraising events, this one would certainly make the list. The $25-per-plate gathering attracted friends of Mike Hislop, chief investigator for the District Attorney's Office and candidate for Sheriff, some of whom flew in from Fortuna, among other places, because that was the gimmick -- fly in and have some breakfast.

Hislop didn't fly in, but he stores his Cessna in one of nearby hangars. He said he loves to take the plane out, like for day trips to Shelter Cove and Hayfork for lunch. He calls it "going out for a $100 hamburger," considering fuel costs.

Smooth landings?

"My landings," Hislop smiled, "always."

There was talk at the fly-in about shattered confidence in the Sheriff's Department in the rural areas, an overblown meth problem feeding the crime machine and the need to find creative ways to bring in money, particularly in the form of grants.

Hislop is quite passionate when he talks about what he sees as the problems facing the Sheriff's Office. A contentious point, particularly in the debate circuit, revolves around the department spending beyond its means, particularly in the area of overtime pay. Hislop read from a sheet printed out from the County Auditor's office, breaking down each position in the HCSO along with wages earned. He pointed out occurrences of overtime, essentially an open wound in the HCSO budget. He blamed it on lack of oversight.

"I don't think people are watching the store," Hislop said of overtime expenses. (Hislop's opponent, Undersheriff Mike Downey, maintains that Hislop misunderstands the paperwork, and that the overages -- which he characterizes as minor -- are standard practice.)

According to the county budget, for fiscal year 2008/09, the Board of Supervisors approved a $25,260,041 budget for the HCSO, about $2.5 million less than requested. By the end of the year, the HCSO was over budget by $1.8 million, the bulk of that -- $1.3 million -- located within salaries and benefits, particularly for custody services (i.e. jail) and Sheriff Operations. General fund monies took care of most of the difference.

On the topic of overtime in the jail, Hislop said that having a correctional officer doing public relations and backgrounds isn't necessary and is adding to higher expenditures. He said he can write his own press releases in order to reduce overtime.

"If they're that shorthanded in the jail," he said, "those are luxuries." Kind of like that $100 hamburger, except on the county's dime.

-- John Osborn

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