Wake County sheriff responds to critical money management report

Wake County News

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Wake County Sheriff Gerald Baker is pushing back on concerns raised by county leaders surrounding his office’s management and handling of taxpayer money.

CBS 17 obtained internal memos in October written by Wake County Chief Financial Officer Emily Lucas and County Manager David Ellis questioning Baker’s decisions on promotions, pay raises and awarding contracts, among other things.

“I have nothing to hide,” said Baker. “What you all received and what was reported is like we’re over here doing all these things just recklessly. They were involved in it.”

The memos CBS17 previously obtained were written between July 26 and Sept. 26.

On July 26, Lucas expressed concern, saying county administrators had been working with the sheriff’s office for several months. As with any transition, they expected a period of adjustment, but the department wasn’t following “policies, procedures and guidelines.”

The Sept. 18 memo states the department needs to get approval from human resources before hiring or promoting people.

The memo goes on to say not doing so “adds risks when employees are placed in positions they are not qualified for.”

Baker said his office had been in communication with county officials during that time period.

Baker sent the county manager a 173-page report on Wednesday in response to the concerns.

“We didn’t dispute any of what they were saying. It’s just that it wasn’t reported right. It’s not as bad as what it was made to be,” Baker said.

The memos said Baker violated county policy against no-bid contracts in how he changed the food service vendor at the Wake County Detention Center. Baker cited violations by the previous vendor for why he moved forward with the change.

“They may be inmates, but they’re still human beings. And they were being fed food that most people wouldn’t even throw out back to a dog,” he said. “This was a matter that needed to be dealt with immediately.”

He also said as an independently elected officer, he had the authority to make the change.

When CBS 17 asked Wake County about the matter, spokesperson Dara Demi noted a provision in state law which provides a specific exception to the normal requirements for the sheriff of Wake and certain other counties to execute contracts specifically for food and supplies at their jails.

“This is the sheriff’s office. And I have the authority to make decisions about what happens here,” said Baker.

The memo from Sept. 18 cites instances where the sheriff’s office took jobs at the detention center and converted them to senior positions with higher pay. The memo said that goes against the sheriff’s claim they need more detention officers.

The county manager sent another memo on Sept. 26. It said that, despite the previous meeting to address the concerns, three times that month there were issues with promoting employees.

According to that memo, on Sept. 13, the sheriff’s office requested an employee receive a 10-percent raise to take effect months prior.

The office also requested another employee receive a more than 20-percent raise and be paid retroactively.

The memo states both instances go against county policy.

Baker said he made the promotions as part of a broader restructuring that he believed need to occur, and that would not interfere with his office’s ability to hire more detention officers.

As he spoke to reporters Thursday, he repeatedly said he took issue with how he believes this information came to light in the first place.

“It should have never happened. And, the reason it happened is because there are some folks that are still supporters of the last administration,” he said. “It’s unethical, also in the manner in which the document was leaked. So, who’s gonna address that? I’m not hiding anything. I don’t have anything to hide. It’s all right here.”

County spokesperson Dara Demi said the county manager was reviewing the report and released the following statement:

Wake County stands by the merits of the memos sent to the Wake County Sheriff’s Office earlier this year. We continue to work with the Sheriff to ensure his office’s procurement and personnel actions follow county policies and procedures, as well as state law.

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