Former sheriff promoted more people in final month than all of 2016

The Oklahoma County Sheriff's Office and Jail (File/KOKH).

County leaders are questioning actions taken during former Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel’s final month in office.

Sheriff Whetsel submitted his letter of resignation on February 1, 2017 and announced his final day in office would be March 1, 2017. During his final month in office Sheriff Whetsel signed off on 40 promotions. According to records from the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office, the sheriff approved just 36 promotions in all of calendar year 2016.

“It is putting all of us in a precarious position because when these raises are given they have to be built into the next year after that,” said Oklahoma County Commissioner Brian Maughan.

Maughan says the sheriff's office promotions did not go through the county's budget board, something he says other elected officials do in order to make sure the county's entire budget can remain balanced.

“The sheriff, and now the undersheriff, should have come to the budget board and asked because there is no question it doesn't automatically increase their pay, but their fringe benefits is attached to the percentage of the salary these employees make,” Maughan said.

The former undersheriff, now Sheriff, P.D. Taylor declined interview requests for this story. However, his office said he wasn't consulted about the promotions made during his predecessor's final month.

The sheriff's office says none of the approved promotions seem out of line and were recommended by supervisors. The majority of the February promotions, 26 of them, were from “Detention Officer” to “Corporal.” Sheriff’s office spokesman Mark Opgrande told FOX 25 those promotions actually began months early with exams. Opgrande said due to high turnover at the jail, the agency needed to make the promotions to increase supervisory positions at the jail.

The sheriff's office says in 2016 the jail had 193 detention officers on staff and just 49 corporals; now there are 171 detention officers and 61 corporals, which is a net loss of these positions. Opgrande said the sheriff’s office is down 46 positions, which makes up 9 percent of its workforce.

Opgrande told FOX 25 in an email that Sheriff Taylor “is currently evaluating the staffing levels in every division. He’s instructed all division heads to look at their staff and organizational makeup. This is an effort to make sure we have the right people in the right places.”

The sheriff’s office said they are hoping to get a new class of detention officers soon in an effort to increase staffing levels at the jail. This issue has been a concern for many years and the sheriff’s office says Taylor is working to make the jail a priority.

He was not elected sheriff, so Taylor doesn't get a vote on the budget board. However county leaders like Maughan say he would like to see more cooperation so all the county agencies can work together to make the most of the county’s limited resources.

“Just because he doesn't have a seat on the horseshoe doesn't mean we don't intend for him to be in the budget board meetings and certainly be accountable to the budget board by interfacing with us and giving us input,” Maughan said. “They are after all the largest account in the entire budget for the Oklahoma County general fund.”

The sheriff's office says former Sheriff Whetsel did not want to comment on the promotions he approved in his final days in office.

The Oklahoma State Auditor's Office said it is nearing completion on a required performance audit on the Sheriff's office. This type of audit is required any time an elected official leaves office. It is different than the investigative audit into financial concerns at the Sheriff's office that led to the criminal investigation that clouded Sheriff Whetsel's final months in office.

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