Lincoln County sheriff struggles to fill open positions

IVANHOE — Being shorthanded in the sheriff’s department can be dangerous.

That’s the message Lincoln County Sheriff Chad Meester delivered to the commissioners at the November meeting. Even with sharing law enforcement coverage with city police in the major towns, there can still be weak spots in the schedule, he told them.

Since then he has been busy finding relief for the situation.

“The hiring process for public safety is a long process, but we did close the deputy and dispatch openings on December 1,” Meester said.  “We had eight applications for the dispatch/jailer position and 16 applications for the deputy position. This is more than I expected and I am pleased with the results.” 

The interest in the part-time positions is low, Meester had told the commissioners at their most recent meeting.

“There is a need to assess what our current practices were resulting,” he said in a recent email.

“I am also in the process of composing a letter addressing the solicitation of employees and our public safety struggles in Lincoln County.”

Meester received approval to advertise for a full-time permanent deputy for his department at the board’s first meeting in November. Meester went over the scheduling and his budget and figured this would be the best route to go.

Not all the commissioners agreed with him, though, as the vote was 4-1 with Jack Vizecky voting no.

“When you have a full-time person, you have to schedule that person for all their hours,” Vizecky had said. “You can’t just have him fill in when people get sick and can’t come to work.”

They cannot change the schedule just to avoid overtime, was his point.

“That could open the department up for a dispute with the union,” he said.

During an interview on Tuesday, Vizecky elaborated based on his nearly 20 years experience as the Lincoln County sheriff.

“I believe Sheriff Meester is doing the scheduling even further out than the usual one month,” Vizecky said. “None of us knows when they’ll be sick or have a funeral to attend, or want to use banked vacation hours if they have unexpected company from out-of-state.”

The only thing hiring a full-time deputy will be good for is to help make sure there is enough staff on schedule to cover an unexpected absence, he said.

Vizecky comes from an era when he, as sheriff, held a salaried position and was basically on call when he wasn’t on duty. He covered most of the unscheduled time off, himself.

“Now, they’re hourly,” Vizecky said. “It has evolved to people saying, ‘I’ve got my 40 hours in and the county can fill in the rest.’ So, a full-time deputy will not solve this problem.”

The agenda for Thursday’s Lincoln County Commissioner’s 2 p.m. meeting does not show a time slot for Meester to update the hiring situation for the board. However, other items on the agenda include reports from department heads such as the Lincoln County Highway Department.

County Engineer Joe Wilson plans to request a resolution to finalize the contract for the Highway Safety Improvement Project as well as give project, maintenance and engineering technician updates.

Another resolution calls for the final acceptance of the chevron sign placement and white edge lines that were painted on various locations in the county this summer. This work was completed using Highway Safety Improvement funds, said engineering technician Dustin Hauschild.

 “We plan to make a recommendation to the county board to hire a candidate that had interviewed for the vacant engineering technician position that was opened when Joe Wilson was appointed as the county engineer,” Hauschild said.

 Lincoln County Environmental Administrator Robert Olsen is also on the agenda with his departmental report.

“I will look for approval of the commercial recycling fee schedule, where businesses pay (what portion of the cost) of the cost of a dumpster for recycling,” Olsen said. “I will also talk about raising the rate for non-county residents who use our rural garbage drop-off program.”

Following the board meeting, a truth in taxation meeting will be conducted, beginning at 6 p.m.