SYCAMORE – The DeKalb County Board Law and Justice Committee denied several appeals Monday night from department heads looking to fend off proposed budget cuts to their departments. It received dire warnings about the state of justice in the county.
Public Defender Tom McCulloch had four appeals, three for additional or upgraded staff at a cost of $134,000.
“What I’m asking is ... how do we address the inequities between the prosecution and public defense,” McCulloch said to the committee. “My way of thinking was you add staff members, you upgrade members that you have. Simple as that.”
McCulloch said there had been an increase in the number of trials and that has added strain to his office. If the County Board didn’t approve the staff increase?
“We’ll continue to work, we’ll do the best we can,” he said.
McCulloch also warned the committee that more expensive cases were coming down the line, such as cases where the county will have to pay for expert witnesses or tests for defendants.
McCulloch’s fourth appeal was about the appeal process itself.
“This is an appeal of the process we are undertaking and the County Board should allow a full discussion of the issues raised among the full membership of the board and not allow the administrative process to subvert the valuable work being done,” the appeal read.
All four appeals were rejected by the committee. The committee had on its agenda 10 appeals from departments including the public defenders office, treatment courts, court services and the court. It approved a request from the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office for a new secretary position because Sheriff Roger Scott found the funding necessary to pay for the position.
County Board Chairman Mark Pietrowski, D-District 3, used the sheriff as an example of how department heads could get the positions or appropriations they want in their budget, by finding alternative means of funding.
“But for these particular positions right now they say ‘reserves’ or ‘general fund balance’ and we just don’t have the resources to do that,” he said.
Next year, he said he wants to implement an internal strategic plan to get departments where they want to be.
Chief Judge Robbin Stuckert appeared before the committee Monday evening to support budget appeals from all of the departments under her branch of the county government.
“I don’t have the ability to raise funds,” she told the board, and said that is what she comes to the board for. She said this makes the judicial branch the weakest branch of government.
Stuckert told the committee that the County Board has to ensure that the judiciary is adequately funded.
“In our system of government with three co-equal branches, I would implore upon you to understand it is our job in the judiciary to enhance social order, maintain the rule of law, ensure due process of law and provide equal protection,” Stuckert said. “There is no other department head in this county that has those responsibilities. ... So it may be where some departments get cut more than others and that you can’t equally balance those when we have these protections.”