Pima County sheriff turns budget deficit into surplus, increases command staff

A multi-million-dollar budget deficit inherited by Pima County Sheriff Mark Napier has been turned into a surplus, allowing the department to increase command staff.

Upon taking office in January 2018 and facing a $6 million to $7 million budget deficit, Napier scaled down the department’s administrative staff to help absorb some of the deficit. The department finished the year about $2.5 million over budget, and continued to run with a lean staff until it recently proved to be unsustainable, according to Napier.

“We had to take some drastic measures to kind of get back in line. One of those was a significant reduction to the executive staff,” Napier said. The department ultimately downsized its command staff from four bureau chiefs, a chief deputy and a chief of staff to two bureau chiefs and Napier. “For a department this size, that was unsustainable, and I knew that.”

Napier said it took about two years to determine the appropriate command staff composition, which includes three bureau chiefs and a chief deputy.

In January, Byron Gwaltney was promoted to chief deputy, a position that has gone unfilled since the September 2016 indictment of former Chief Deputy Chris Radtke on federal charges related to mismanagement of department funds. Radtke was ultimately convicted of a misdemeanor and ordered to pay a fine.

The investigation into the department’s use of federal Anti-Racketeering funds revealed more than 20 years of misuse totaling more than $500,000. No one else was arrested in connection with the FBI investigation, but the Arizona Attorney’s General’s Office has been conducting its own investigation into the department’s use of funds since June 2017.

As chief deputy, Gwaltney will provide a buffer for Napier when it comes to day-to-day operations. If Napier needs something done by a captain or lieutenant, Gwaltney will be able to quickly connect Napier with the right person.

“Out of necessity, for almost two years, I’ve been doing a lot of work that arguably the sheriff shouldn’t have their fingers in,” Napier told the Star. “Byron Gwaltney is dedicated and professional. He’s been with the department a long time and is, I think, universally respected.”

The department also expanded its bureaus. Prior to January, the department had been running with a corrections bureau and a combined support and operations bureau. The bureaus have now been split into three separate entities with Chief Karl Woolridge heading up the corrections bureau, Chief John Stuckey running the support bureau and Chief Jesus Lopez in charge of the operations bureau.

Napier didn’t have a cost estimate for increasing the command staff, but said no new positions were created and the department is in a good place financially to absorb those costs.

The department also evaluated its lieutenant and captain ranks and elevated three lieutenant spots to captains in areas including communications and the office of professional standard.

Napier said the change was made “to provide greater opportunity for command promotion as we move forward and to put more responsibility” on the new captains.

“The other thing I think about frequently is succession planning, deepening the bench, so that hopefully, when I’m no longer sheriff, the next sheriff comes from inside the department and we have a wide variety of people who are both qualified and ready to assume the role,” Napier told the Star.

The cost of elevating lieutenants to captain was nominal, Napier said, and equated to essentially a promotion and increase in pay.

Napier said he never planned on being sheriff for more than a few terms, but he’s intent on making sure that the department is rich with people ready to take the mantle when he moves on.

All PCSD chiefs and captains are also attending 10-week executive leadership training in Marana, through the Northwestern University Command School.

The training program has also served an additional and unintended purpose.

“There were factions here, and I don’t think that’s news to anybody. I’m not interested in factions, I’m interested in a cohesive command group,” Napier said. “By sending them all to this training together, it’s kind of a shared experience. They have to work on academic projects together. They share this misery, if you will, of going back to school, since some of them have been out of school for 20 years. So I think that helps them bond and maybe learn to work together more effectively.”

Napier said he thinks the department has made major strides in the last two years, cutting down on crime while returning the budget to a surplus state. While staffing is still an issue, Napier says he’s proud of the work he’s done to increase compensation for deputies and corrections staff and is hopeful that he’ll be able to increase compensation in the upcoming fiscal year.

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