De Baca commissioners, sheriff resolve some issues

By Ryan Lengrich

FORT SUMNER — The De Baca County Commission has agreed to reinstate County Sheriff Gary Graves’ cell phone and credit card under new terms, while lawyers from the two sides will consider dropping pending lawsuits dating back to last year.

But the dispute over the need for a sheriff’s secretary remains unresolved.

About 20 area residents attended a special county commission meeting Monday.

While no action was taken, the commission agreed to give the sheriff’s office as many as three cell phones. The phones will be registered in the user’s name, leaving them liable for any overage charges, while the county will cover the basic service, County Clerk Nancy Sparks said.

Previously, Sparks said, the phones were registered in the county’s name, leaving the user to reimburse the county. Graves’ cell phones were taken away by the county last year.

The commission also agreed to give Graves and his chief deputy credit cards for fuel purposes. The cards will require the user’s Social Security number and car mileage to activate and usage will be easily tracked, Graves told the commission.

The revoking of cell phones and gas cards by the county in part led Graves to sue the county to provide what Graves deemed necessary office facilities.

The county countersued for access to the sheriff’s office, which Graves locked to protect what he said was confidential material.

A district judge advised lawyers on July 2 to resolve the issues out of court.

At meeting’s end Monday, De Baca county lawyer Don Shutte asked Randall Harris, the attorney for Graves and the New Mexico Sheriff’s Association, to consider dropping the lawsuit. Harris said he would discuss the matter with his client.

“My inclination is that we can better solve this out of the courtroom,” Harris said. “That is a general rule — with the understanding that some things have to be resolved in the courtroom.”

Graves also lobbied for the return of an administrative secretary, but the commission expressed concerns about the need and budget implications.

Graves said he will present a job description at today’s regular county meeting. He said a secretary handles finances, transport orders and answers phones among other things allowing Graves time to patrol the county.

But Fort Sumner resident Blanch Boyd said an assistant is not the answer.

“He doesn’t need a secretary and really I don’t see another deputy. I think they just need to get out and do their job,” said Boyd, a supporter of a newly formed group identified as “De Baca County Concerned Citizens,” aimed at recalling Graves from office.

“He should be out there checking on our citizens … we need somebody out there all the time showing interest not just down here getting a cup of coffee.”

Commission chairperson Pow Carter said final budget numbers for the upcoming year have not been approved, and funding for another deputy or secretary is uncertain.
He is not convinced a secretary will free up more time for the sheriff and deputies.

“They are not in the field, you know, and it seemed like when they had the secretaries they were not in the field,” Carter said.

Graves disagrees, saying he spends enough time in the county.

“I come in at 10 in the morning and work until two in the morning,” Graves said. “We are out there, we are patrolling — yes we do have duties in the office and we are going to have to attend to these duties.”

Graves’ attorney pointed to a state statute he believes entitles county sheriffs to a secretary.