Enough is enough. The ongoing cold war between the Grant County Court and the sheriff has reached the point that it is affecting county operations, not to mention local government's public image.
The dispute between the Sheriff Glenn Palmer and the Court, with Judge Mark Webb as the lightning rod, has its roots in the county's budget problems and the decision earlier this year to cut the Emergency Management Services coordinator from the payroll. The sheriff subsequently declined to add the job to his duties, leading to a standoff over the job, the EMS office, and the keys to the sheriff's new vehicles.
However, most observers would agree the problem is more complex than just who gets the keys. It's more like the old married couple who no longer speak to each other, but can't quite put their fingers on what started the fight. The sheriff and the court have been at odds over a veritable litany of slights and affronts that date back light years in political time.
That's produced a series of exercises in brinksmanship - a strategy that isn't always very successful on the world stage, let alone in local government. At this point, all this has accomplished has been to take up officials' time and energy, with no solution in sight. As time passes and the rift continues, the public has gone from bemused to irritated and alarmed. Some folks are even talking recall.
An important factor at the base of this dysfunctional relationship is the distinct difference in communicatons styles shown by the sheriff and the judge. That difference has been allowed to morph into a total lack of communications. That's not to point fingers at either side, but to illustrate the growing disconnect between our Court and sheriff.
So why should we care? In their day-to-day duties, the Court and the sheriff probably don't need to communicate or even cross paths. Each was elected by a majority of the voters to do a distinct job. However, there are times when we, the public, need them to work together and to communicate clearly. Unfortunately, those times will likely occur during an emergency - and that's not a good time for them to be learning to talk to each other. In the end, the public probably doesn't care if the EMS job gets done in an office at the Justice Services building or out of the trunk of a car - as long as it gets done well. With the recent events, the public has a right to be uncertain as to whether that will happen.
It seems clear that the two sides won't be able to overcome the bad blood by themselves. So here's a modest proposal: The county should hire an outside facilitator or mediator to tackle the problem, and - to avoid a new spat - split the cost between the sheriff's and Court's budgets. With this approach we're not looking for a group hug, or even a decision as to who was wrong and who was right in the past. However, it would be a major accomplishment just to outline the ground rules for future communications and cooperation - and get both sides to sign off on this.
That route wouldn't be a sure fix, and it would have a price tag, but it would be a way to move on from the current stalemate. And the expense of a middleman might be cheap, compared to the cost of a recall election. - SC