MONTICELLO — White County Sheriff Bill Brooks promised an “unfiltered” town hall meeting Thursday night at the Tippecanoe Country Club.
He wasn’t kidding.
The sheriff conducted the office’s first town hall meeting to inform the public about the goals that were accomplished during Brooks’ first year in office, goals that weren’t achieved, a behind-the-scenes “good, bad and ugly” look at White County politics, and changes that have taken place since the beginning of 2019.
“A lot has happened, mostly good,” Brooks said. “I want to make it clear that (the town hall meeting is) going to get tense. Some people probably may be hurt, but I will not say anything that I don’t have the facts (for) right in front of me, black and white. It’s not to bash any person. Sometimes it hurts, we failed and we have to address it, but we don’t just turn away and (say) ‘Please don’t talk about it.’”
Brooks talked about saving the county money when others advocated for spending more. One example Brooks used was the purchase of a computer-aided dispatching system for White County, spending $74,000 on what would have cost, he said, between $300,000 to $400,000 “under the previous administration,” presumably referring to former Sheriff Patrick Shafer.
Brooks also addressed a loss of funds from the Department of Corrections that the former administration, he said, failed to claim, which he estimates to be nearly $500,000.
“We hold prisoners for the Department of Corrections,” he said. “(The previous administration) didn’t bill them. They could have billed them $67,000. Didn’t bill them at all. Never did bill medically. In 2017-18, they billed $67,000 — again no medical. They could have billed $133,000. Something’s wrong.”
Brooks added that, even with the help of state Sen. Brian Buchanan, who also attended the town hall, the money lost couldn’t be recouped.
“It’s gone,” he said.
Brooks said he’s established a relationship with Carroll County Sheriff Tobe Leazenby to take inmates while that county begins building a new jail. It’s an effort, he said, that not only would bring in money to White County, but establishes a relationship in which Brooks can send inmates there, if the need arises.
Some of the changes Brooks has made, such as training corrections officers on expanded procedures and using inmates to conduct simple maintenance around the jail, has freed deputies for more patrols and make more arrests, which he said has kept the jail filled. It has also saved the county money, he said.
“Just think of the time saved, the money saved, the overtime saved,” Brooks said. “We’re always looking ahead to where we can save the money so we don’t get into a jam. When you start operating under crisis management, that’s when it gets expensive. That’s when you start running out of options.”
When talking about the White County Commission is when Brooks removed the filter, so to speak.
When confronted with several deteriorating conditions inside the jail, such as black and green mold on air filters in the building, chipped paint on the jail floor, grimy shower stalls for inmates, and a rotted wall near a water conditioner, Brooks said the commissioners ignored the issues.
In the end, Brooks said work to the rotted wall and some minor painting inside a holding cell was completed without spending any money, while fixing the shower stalls — estimated by commissioners to cost about $10,000 for each stall — was done for $43,000.
“(It would have cost) $277,000 if the commissioners had their way,” Brooks said. “We chose our way.”
Brooks said he also went ahead and had the air system repaired to get rid of the moldy filters, which he estimated hadn’t been changed in 7½ years.
“It hadn’t been addressed,” he said. “We’re going to address it because we have to breathe it. I have people who are sick constantly.
“I’m proud of (our staff). We’re fixing what we can with what we have.”
Brooks also mentioned the commissioners’ reluctance to continue with charging inmate fees for booking upon sentencing and change of address/work status for violent and sex offenders — something he said is being done in several other Indiana counties, including Carroll County.
“That money goes into the general fund, but we can call it back if there is an expense at the jail,” he said. “That was roughly $60,000. We went in front of the commissioners — (they said) no. I told them, ‘It doesn’t matter to me. You just hurt yourself. I’m trying to raise money for you. I’m trying to raise money for when I come to ask you for money.’ We’re trying to do what we can. Got denied.”
Brooks said the commissioners have put up roadblocks at every turn.
“I was told I was gung ho,” he said. “I said, ‘Well, hell, the last guy didn’t do anything. If I take two steps I’m gung ho.’
“You elected me to take care of the problems that were here, and that’s what we’ve been trying to do,” Brooks added. “The (sheriff’s department staff) has done it. I may have led it, guided it, but they did it. I did not do it. These people are working for you.”
Brooks said he was warned “by a few people not to talk about certain things,” adding that some of White County’s political leadership are frightened of the constituency.
“What they’re scared of is you,” he said while addressing the standing-room-only crowd. “They’re not scared of me. They’ve been fighting me all year. You’re the people they’re worried about. Why else would they come to me worried?”
Brooks said the public must be made aware of what is happening “behind the scenes” in White County government.
“It’s not all negative. We have a lot of accomplishments and entities that are working with us. The (White County) Council is probably the best. All they ask is of me is to come in and explain it. The commissioners, until last week, never came to the jail to find out what we want. Almost every (county) council person has been to the jail.”
Brooks said he doesn’t want to sound like he is disappointed with all of the commissioners, noting that he “thinks the world” of Steve Burton and John Heimlich. But he urged newly registered candidates for commission seats to “pay attention to what is happening.”
“Running for office is tough. When you’re up here on this end, you’re attacked constantly,” he said. “If you don’t have the shoulders, you better go home.”
Brooks said he hopes he can work with the new candidates for commissioner should they be elected this fall.
“I don’t want a ‘yes’ person. I just want to be able to talk and that’s it,” he said. “We’ll talk, we’ll work it out and move on. I don’t expect to get everything, but for crying out loud, come out and ask what’s going on like the (county) council does. That’s how you work together. … That’s all we ask for.”
While giving all the credit to his staff for the list of accomplishments, Brooks noted a first-of-its-kind ceremony at the sheriff’s department that saw the promotion of several officers to higher ranks. He recently promoted Deputy David Rozzi, Detective Erik Janke, Deputy Josh Shoemaker and Deputy Matt White to the rank of sergeant.
“For the first time in the history of the sheriff’s office, we now have a career path for deputies to progress and work for,” he said.
Brooks said the atmosphere in the sheriff’s department is now a positive one, despite the challenges.
“I’ve instructed the staff, every day, ‘We start the day out to do what’s right. We don’t start the day out to fight,’” he said. “That’s wasted energy. If you want to come after us, you better come armed. … I’m here to do what I told you I was going to do. We have accomplished every goal we said — we accomplished most of that in six months.
“You elected me to do it and I’m going to keep doing it.”