When I asked you to hire me as your District Attorney, I pledged to make the District Attorney’s Office more efficient and responsive. We work for you and are serious about our responsibility to use your money wisely while serving you better.
The last four months have been very challenging but also very rewarding. It’s nice to come to work every day knowing that we are making a difference in our communities.
We have trimmed the staff and eliminated unnecessary positions. I feel like I have the right people in the right jobs now. The people who are here are wonderful, dedicated, hard working people. I am proud and amazed at how they have kept the office running while I am dealing with budgets and restructuring the office.
We have improved financial accounting procedures, added checks and balances on job performance, improved our work flow and made procedures more efficient for you, the citizens. We have improved communication with local law enforcement.
My one frustration is that I have not had more time to get out and talk to people in the district. Most of my time in the first four months has gone to building a budget from scratch, trying to get a handle on unfinished projects and dealing with staffing and procedural issues. I hope to be able to spend more time talking to you, my bosses, in the coming months.
Staffing and Organization
We have made a number of staffing and organizational changes. Some of the staffing changes have been painful and difficult. However, I know that taxpayers expect me to make tough decisions in order to make every penny you pay in taxes provide a 110 percent return. We now have 32 employees in the three counties. I feel like I have the right people in the right job.
These were our goals as we reorganized the office:
• Get the right person in the right job.
• Simplify and clarify supervision and responsibility.
• Be more timely and cost-effective.
• Be flexible and respond to changing circumstances.
We downsized some departments and eliminated some supervisory positions where one person supervised a department of just two or three people.
In Rogers County, all of the non-attorney staff is now supervised by our new district manager, Misty Douglas. Tim Wantland is our chief prosecutor. David Iski is the civil attorney. John Cummings is the chief investigator.
In Mayes County, Chuck Ramsey, is our chief prosecutor and is in charge of the office. Chuck has the most prosecutorial experience within our district. Chuck lends his trial knowledge and talent to the other counties within our district.
In Craig County, Bryce Lair is in charge in charge of the office. While handling cases in Craig County, he will also assist me with public relations and policy/administration issues district wide.
We are cross training employees so that everyone has a backup to handle their duties when they are out of the office.
Overall, we have a great staff in the DA’s Office. They have great pride in our office and were a tremendous help during the transition. Everyone is a team player, and most of the best ideas for improvements have come from the staff.
I took office on Jan. 1 and immediately began building a budget from scratch. Some budget challenges carried over from the previous administration. Money was spent or committed in ways I would not have permitted given the current state of the economy.
I also inherited an unfunded liability for unused vacation and sick pay. State law allows employees to carry over vacation and sick leave hours from one year to the next. Several employees had accumulated quite a carryover. However, no funds had been set aside to cover that liability. When an employee leaves for any reason—retirement, resignation and even termination for cause—those unpaid vacation hours must be paid to the employee and, if the employee is eligible for retirement, the sick leave hours must be paid to the state retirement system. We’ve had to spend $250,000 out of this year’s budget paying those expenses for departing employees which had piled up over a period of many years.
The district is growing rapidly, both in population and caseload. However, our state funding continues to be cut. On a positive budget note, I discovered that defendants owed our office $200,000 in overdue probation fees. The staff is working aggressively to collect that money from defendants who were ordered to pay by the courts.
A transition audit revealed that the office had not been keeping the required records for forfeitures. We have improved our record-keeping procedures and centralized forfeitures for all counties in one office.
We are working to clean up pending forfeitures that carried forward from the previous administration.
We have established standard forfeiture criteria and educated law enforcement officers on the guidelines. We are filing forfeiture actions promptly and serving defendants during their court appearances. That avoids wasting time and money that otherwise would be needed to track them down later.
We are making common sense decisions about not pursuing forfeiture actions that cost more than the property is worth, but I also want drug dealers to know: “If you deal drugs out of your car, I’m going to take your car.”
Driving without Insurance and Under Suspension
Dealing with people who drive without insurance or under suspension takes up a great deal of court time. I believe in making people be more accountable. We are now using traffic probation to track them and make sure they keep their insurance and license. The new procedure helps everyone involved and better protects the public.
When I took office, we had 850 pending bogus check cases with warrants. That means that merchants aren’t getting the money that is rightfully owed to them, and we are aggressively pursuing collections.
To make the office more accessible to working people, the bogus check, community service and DA supervision offices are now open over the lunch hour.
Communication with Law Enforcement
We have implemented an open door policy for law enforcement. Officers are welcome to come to the office at any time and we try to take care of their questions or other requests right then and there. In addition, we have given them our cell phone numbers and email so that we can answer questions promptly.
We have also set a specific day and time each week when officers can bring their case files in and visit with a staff attorney about filing the cases.
We have received excellent cooperation from law enforcement officers and value the strong relationship we are building.
Nan Pope, victim/witness coordinator, has begun a new program to help crime victims deal with their ordeal and rebuild their self-esteem. Our support group meets once a month for breakfast, a speaker and other activities. We have applied for a VOCA grant to fund this program. Victims of violent crime can also receive assistance with their medical expenses through the Victims Compensation Board, funded by restitution paid by the defendants.
My motto is “Get it done now or it will never get done.” We’re working smarter to get the job done for you.
Our business is serving the people. Our goal is to have an office that is streamlined, efficient and takes a businesslike approach to the job. We take seriously our obligation to the citizens and taxpayers.
I am a hands-on manager. I have been in the courtroom when our staff attorneys needed an extra set of hands.
I look forward to the opportunity to get out of the office and meet with citizens in the coming months. Please bear with us as we fine tune the office. When this office last had a set of fresh eyes, there were no cell phones and the paperwork was all done by hand or on a typewriter. We’ve made huge progress in the past few months and we won’t stop until you have a DA’s office that makes you proud.