Marshall County Judge Executive Kevin Neal clarified the county’s role in hiring law enforcement officers for schools Tuesday after comments criticizing the fiscal court for not employing two deputies in 2016.
Neal’s comments came during the Marshall County Fiscal Court’s regular meeting. Chuck Paisley, of Benton, repeatedly asked the court if it was responsible for school safety. Neal said that issue fell under the school board’s purview while clarifying that the county was not asked to specifically hire additional school resource officers.
Paisley asked if Neal was responsible for signing off on grants to hire additional officers.
“I cannot sign off on a grant for two new deputies unless this fiscal court votes for it,” Neal said. “I do not have the powers or the duties to sign a grant without this fiscal court’s approval…. We cannot make a decision today as a fiscal court when it comes to the school.”
Neal said the court was responsible for hiring employees, but it was up to departments on how staffing is allocated.
“Hiring of employees comes through this fiscal court,” Neal said. “Decisions to put them out at the school, sits [with Sheriff Kevin Byars].”
Neal said the county had entertained a motion to increase sheriff’s department funding for additional employees in June 2016. Magistrate Bob Gold made the motion, but it did not receive a second.
Paisley said he had spoken to Neal by phone March 23.
“It was brought to my attention two years [ago] that there was a grant laid on your desk, you looked at it and you stated that you didn’t have the funds for that grant in your budget,” Paisley said.
Paisley said he had been told by Sheriff Kevin Byars that the request for two additional officers had been made but was rejected by the judge executive. Neal said that description of events was “inaccurate.”
Neal said the funds in question were through a Community Oriented Policing Services grant, which is administered through the U.S. Department of Justice. COPS grants provide 75 percent of approved entry-level salaries and fringe benefits for newly hired full-time officers, up to $125,000 per position, over a three-year grant period. The county would have been responsible for the remaining 25 percent of costs for the deputies, which, according to Neal, were not requested as school resource officers. The county would also have had to pay the full salary or terminate the positions at the end of the 36 months.
According to the Department of Justice’s web site, special consideration is given to departments requesting officers to deal with “violent crime, homeland security problems and illegal immigration.”
“The COPS grants [were] to hire two deputies, it has nothing to do with school safety,” Neal said. “I want to be very clear, because you’re getting some misinformed information. I don’t know what the attempt here is today, but your information is inaccurate.”
Paisley also spoke about the plan released last month by Neal, who serves on the safety advisory board to the school district. Neal repeatedly asked Paisley to clarify comments about the plan and the grant, as well as what he was referring to in terms of school safety.
“I’m just going by what I read off of Channel 6 news, what they’ve posted” Paisley said. “You stated to me on the phone that you didn’t have [anything] to do with school safety.”
Neal said the court had no legislative authority.
“We do not have voting power today or any day, regarding school safety,” Neal said.