Sheriff John Darr went before Columbus Council on Tuesday to defend his office's performance in the wake of what he considered a misrepresentation of the facts, at the least, in Mayor Teresa Tomlinson's presentation of her proposed fiscal 2016 budget two weeks ago.
Part of Tomlinson's proposed budget would cut the sheriff's budget from $27.65 million to $26.97 million, a reduction of about 2.5 percent. It would also transfer some positions to the Columbus Police Department to reduce what Tomlinson called "duplicative services."
She also shared statistics that she said showed Muscogee County funds its Sheriff's Office at a higher rate per capita than many other counties. Muscogee County, with a 203,000 population, spends $151 per capita for the Sheriff's Office while Clayton (population 264,000) spends $127, Clarke (121,000) spends $122, Gwinnett (859,000) spends $87 per capita.
On Tuesday, Darr produced his own comparisons that showed his office spending less money per inmate in the county jail than many other counties, a statistic that he claimed was a better way to judge the efficiencies of different departments.
His chart showed Muscogee County spending $16,221 per inmate per year, compared to Cobb County ($25,725), Athens/Clarke County ($24,577), Richmond County ($19,567), Clayton County ($18,737) and Henry County ($18,393).
"We run a very fiscally responsible office, and I think this graph is a very good example of that," Darr said.
Tomlinson responded that in the context of the proposed budget, comparing jail costs was not so relevant because the budget doesn't propose any cuts to jail spending, except for some savings hoped for through the proposed Rapid Resolution Initiative, which Darr supports.
"I think it was some good information. You could see that council wanted to look through it and had a good number of questions," Tomlinson said.
"I think as we continue to talk about this, one of the things that we're learning is that a lot of times, the sheriff is talking about the jail, and we're talking about other law enforcement activities that are being replicated."
At the end of his presentation, Darr also took issue with a statement that Tomlinson made in her March 31 presentation about the police chief being the top law enforcement officer in the county.
"Regardless of what you hear or who you hear it from, if you look at the Constitution of the state of Georgia, the sheriff is the chief law enforcement," Darr said.
Tomlinson also took issue with that reading of the law.
"In many counties, the sheriff is the chief law enforcement officer because there is no countywide police department," she said. "When you have a countywide police department, with the full authority allowed under Georgia law, then of course they are the chief law enforcement agency."
In other action, council unanimously approved Finance Director Pam Hodge to be the new deputy city manager, replacing David Arrington, who retired March 31.