BEND, OR -- At least one Deschutes County Commissioner is troubled by the District Attorney’s request for a million dollar funding increase to hire a dozen more employees. Commissioner Phil Henderson tells KBND News he was caught off guard by information the D.A. released at a press conference, earlier this month, "What’s, I guess, surprising from all three commissioners is this was the first we’d heard of it. Rather than coming to us – I mean, what he’s talking about now is being ‘in crisis.’ We didn’t learn until the Monday that this came out that they’d had high turnover, we didn’t know they had low morale, we didn’t know that they were in kind of a ‘crisis,’ is what he described, that he wanted to do a major reform in the agency; none of that came to us." He adds, "I wish we would’ve known. I’m wondering if something needs to be done more quickly, for immediate need. You know, the budget hearings are two and a half months away."
D.A. John Hummel has said if he can’t bring on more staff, he’ll be forced to stop prosecuting less serious crimes. Henderson says he's aware the office has a record number of open homicide cases, which is stretching resources right now, but doesn't believe that should be used as justification for a budget increase since that could change in a year. He wants more feedback from local law enforcement. Bend Police Chief Jim Porter tells KBND News the job of a District Attorney’s office has changed, "Right now, our District Attorney does things 10 years ago they didn’t do. They’re part of victims’ assistance, they have a veterans court we’re trying to put together for veterans who need help, diversions of people to drug courts, the child abuse group that forms together to look at these things." He says that extra work is more expensive, "Restorative justice takes longer and takes more people because you have to get farther along in the details and examine these things individually, to treat people individually. So, he has to staff-up to meet what I believe society is asking us to do."
Commissioner Henderson acknowledges Hummel's office faces challenges not seen in other counties. He says using a simple staffing equation, based on population, may not work here, "We do have a massive influx of tourism that probably ups – We’re a bigger county, maybe, by 10% or more, if you’re figuring permanent residents, than we think we are." He says it's too soon to know whether the District Attorney's request will be approved. Formal budget hearings begin in May.