BEND, OR -- Deschutes County Sheriff Shane Nelson is raising questions about his challenger's plan to reduce the number of supervisors. One of Deputy Eric Kozowski’s main campaign issues has been the number of commanders, saying at Tuesday’s debate the department has too many supervisors who are paid too much, and not enough deputies actually responding to calls.
But, Nelson claims Kozowski's plan, revealed to local media, wouldn’t save the agency money. "The other candidate mentioned to the local radio station that he might be put in a position where he had to have some demotions," Nelson said at the debate. "But, the story quoted that he said they would be 'non-punitive demotions.' And, that means that supervisors would keep their pay. So, I just want to have some accurate information out there."
Kozowski immediately responded at the debate, "The accurate information is that I was misquoted. I never said that to the newspaper or the radio station or whoever it was. They assumed that on their own."
Last month, KBND News asked Deputy Kozowski how he planned to reduce the number of supervisors. He said then, "I think we can realign some positions to move them from supervisory or management into service delivery. Certainly I want to take advantage of things like pending retirements to minimize the impacts to employees. But, it may ultimately come down to doing what I believe is best for the community, which may result in non-punitive demotions for a few people, back to – from a supervisory to a service-delivery position."
Deputy Kozowski now admits he wasn't misquoted. But says by using the term “non-punitive,” he was referring to demotions that aren't a punishment for bad performance. "They would be reassigned to a non-supervisory position, which would be in the best interest of the public both providing service-level-wise and fiscally-wise. Unfortunately, there may be some instances where people would incur a pay cut as part of that reassignment or demotion."
He tells KBND News that if elected, he will evaluate the budget and make cuts where he deems necessary while ensuring there are more deputies responding to calls. "If that decision, unfortunately, means some employees end up with a pay-cut through no misdeed or malfeasance or poor performance on their own, then that’s ultimately, I think, the decision that’s best for the community; that’s the wisest use of the tax money." Kozowski acknowledges the plan could upset employees. "There’s going to be some people that aren’t happy about that, no doubt about it. And, if I’m elected, I will take every step possible that I can to ensure that that doesn’t happen. But, again, it may boil down to - at the end of the day - I have to do what’s best for the community as a whole and take those steps."
The Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office legal counsel tells KBND News the move would be unusual and there is not currently a process in place to force a supervisor to take a demotion with a cut in pay, when there has been no wrongdoing nor due process.
The two candidates debate again October fourth, at a forum hosted by the Bend Chamber of Commerce.