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Sheriff's department gets OK to keep money left over from school patrols

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Kanawha Sheriff John Rutherford made a promise to the Kanawha County Commission when they gave him $30,000 to make safety visits to the county's schools that he would return whatever they didn't use.

So after he told the commission during their Thursday evening meeting that he planned to return $10,476, he was surprised when Commission President Kent Carper and Commissioners Dave Hardy and Hoppy Shores told him to keep the money.

The commission gave Rutherford the money in January, just weeks after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., to increase police presence in schools.

Deputies made more than 300 three-hour-long visits to the county's schools from February to the end of the school year. They used a little more than $19,000 of the funds given.

"It's been a great program," Rutherford said. "We wanted to thank the commission for giving us that $30,000 and wanted to return the $10,000 we didn't use to show that we didn't waste the money." 

In the first few visits deputies just made their presence known, parking their cruisers out front with the blue emergency lights running and greeting teachers, parents and students at the beginning of the school day.

The sheriff's department already has three full-time school resource officers that visit seven schools regularly, but this program expanded the contact students and teachers had with officers.

Rutherford said deputies walked the schools with administrators and talked with them about safety issues, such as which doors should be secured and what to do in the case of an active shooter.

It's an extension of their long running program Operation Graduation Prom Alive, which puts extra officers on patrol during prom and graduation season to make sure the students are safe when they celebrate.

The commissioners applauded the work the sheriff's department did in visiting the schools and making contact with teachers and students.

"People really, really took comfort in that you were doing this," Hardy said. "That was a terrible time right after Newtown. And you know, you can't go out and rebuild every school overnight but you can have experts go out and look at your school."

Hardy made a motion to give the money back to the sheriff's department, which was approved.

"You either trust the sheriff or you don't," Hardy said. "I trust you. When this goes back into your account I know its not going to get fiddled away on something. It's going to be used properly."

Rutherford said after the meeting he was surprised the commission gave the money back. He planned to put the money in the department's operating grant fund and said it would be used to buy anything the deputies need.

In other business, commission approved the Kanawha County Board of Education's request to use the county's voting machines for the upcoming excess levy vote in November.

The school board is seeking an excess levy that would generate an extra $24 million the first year it would take effect in the 2014-2015 fiscal year if passed. The board made the decision to go for a second levy after realizing they would have a deficit when the new excess levy, with a five-year flat cap of $44.2 million, took effect in the 2014-2015 fiscal year.

Among other things the excess levy would go toward funding the Kanawha County Public Library. Without this levy the library stands to lose all of its school system funding beginning with the 2014-2015 fiscal year.

Carper said the board will pay for the use of the equipment, but hoped this time they would pay upfront rather than reimburse the commission at a later date. He said the board would eventually ask for their opinion on the levy but hadn't yet. Carper was inclined to give his opinion without their request.

"I intend personally to support it, if for no other reason than to save the library system," Carper said.

Also, commission heard the decision of the state Ethics Commission on the matter of some employees at the Union Public Service District selling surplus items online and keeping the profits.

The employees sold equipment that had been replaced by more modern equipment on eBay and made more than $10,000.

The Ethics Commission ruled the employees' actions were unethical.

"Obviously, they said you can't do that," Carper said.


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