County opened floodgate for payoffs

It’s little wonder that a former Ward County deputy is considering advancing his complaint about his dismissal to the point of taking Ward County to court. Why not? Given the county commission’s record in personnel affairs to benefit some officials in the past and intervene in appropriate disciplinary action, they’ve brought it on themselves. At this point, only a rube would let his dismissal go without demanding a payoff. The flood gates are open, the bank account is waiting, and given the… erratic behavior of the commission, they don’t exactly make for sympathetic litigants.

Minot Daily News has no opinion on the case of former deputy Tim Poston, in part because of the lack of reliable informational sources. What is known is that Poston allegedly violated procedure in the Ward County Jail, he was set to be sanctioned by Sheriff Bob Barnard, only to see the county’s personnel committee – a manifestation of the commission itself – step in and reduce the sanction. The situation opened the door for Poston to assert any number of claims, which are likely to end up in court.

This continues a pattern of behavior by the county commission – a pattern defined by political machinations, secrecy and dishonesty. After the death of an inmate after the Ward County Jail refused medical treatment, two investigations ensued – one paid for by… wait for it … Ward County. Both found the former sheriff acted improperly, leading to the death. But when it came time for the case to go to court, the county commission huddled in a secret meeting whose purpose was specific in purpose: how to make the charges go away and as a bonus, pay off the former sheriff, who’d already collected a salary for no work for months. In that secret meeting, the commission majority appeared to have two major concerns according to a recording of the meeting acquired by Minot Daily News: how to make sure the former sheriff didn’t actually go to trial, and how to funnel the former sheriff money to cover his attorney fees without it being called such. There was also a notable concern on behalf of your county commission and State’s Attorney’s Office about how to hide the political machination and payoff from ever becoming public knowledge. The county commission succeeded in terms of making sure that only Ward County taxpayers paid any price for the death of a young man; succeeded in terms of paying off the former sheriff for the trouble he endured after being tagged in two investigations; but failed to keep the secret. Since then, operating secretly has become an obsession of at least one county commissioner, an utter rejection of the basis of good government.

So, why exactly should Mr. Poston go away quietly? He isn’t accused of neglecting his duty, contributing to the death of an inmate. If a county employee is permitted to resign under those circumstances, why in the world would any employee accept dismissal without a payoff of his own. In fact, no one dismissed by Ward County has any inspiration to walk away without a big payoff from the taxpayers.

Of course, despite the unsavory situation with the former sheriff, the county might not be in this situation if commissioners didn’t interfere with Barnard’s discipline in the first place. The county’s Personnel Committee reduced Poston’s initial penalty, which is likely a benefit to his eventual claim. They opened the door to Mr. Poston’s assertions. Who can really cast aside his claims when it comes to a county government that has a … weak relationship with honesty or integrity?

Until such time as the county commission is reformed and held to at least the minimal ethical standards to which all government bodies should be held, the county simply has no feet to stand on. The commission opened the flood gates paying off the former sheriff. One would have to be a fool not to exploit the weakness, the unqualified arrogance and inconsistency of the county commission. One shouldn’t be surprised to see suing the county as a whole new industry. After all, if the commission stands by an official that its own investigator said committed crimes, what moral imperative does the commission have to dismiss anyone?

More personnel issues are coming out of the shadows just this week. There will likely be yet more.

Ward County’s challenges are immense and grow by the day. In the absence of reform, of real change, it is less representative government than it is a self-serving cabal, driven by unqualified hubris and ambition that has little or nothing to do with the best interests of the people the commission ostensibly represents.