Saturday, March 31, 2012

EPA slow to clean up uranium mines poisoning Navajo territory

This story in the New York Times, dateline Cameron, Arizona, highlights a problem of uranium contamination in the so-called "Four Corners" area, including in Navajo Nation territory.  Here's an excerpt:
The abandoned mine here, about 60 miles east of the Grand Canyon, joins the list of hundreds of such sites identified across the 27,000 miles of Navajo territory in Arizona, Utah and New Mexico that are the legacy of shoddy mining practices and federal neglect.  From the 1940s through the 1980s, the mines supplied critical materials to the nation's nuclear weapons program.  
Not surprisingly, perhaps, American Indians here are struggling to get the Environmental Protection Agency to clean up these sites.  Here is a comment on that struggle from Doug Brugge, a public health professor at Tufts University medical school who is an expert on uranium:
If this level of radioactivity were found in a middle-class suburb, the response would be immediate and aggressive.  The site is remote, but there are obviously people spending time on it.  Don't they deserve some concern?  
Brugge's comment, with its reference to remoteness, suggests both an "out of sight, out of mind" phenomenon, as well as a spatial inequality--inflected with racism, presumably--in relation to the EPA's failures in this place.  

Other posts about uranium mining in the Southwest are available under "the Southwest" label.   

Friday, March 30, 2012

RIP: Earl Scruggs, 1924-2012

Here is the NYT obituary for the legendary musician, who died on Wednesday in Nashville, at the age of 88.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Rural Women and the Limits of Law: Reflections on CSW 56

The United Nations 56th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW 56) featured as its priority theme this year “the empowerment of rural women and their role in poverty and hunger eradication, development and current challenges.” This focus on rural women is long overdue, given that rural women comprise a quarter of the world’s population. Further, women provide 43% of the world’s agricultural labor, and they produce half of the world’s food for direct consumption. In fact, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) discovered some time ago that women—whom many refer to as the “architects of food security”—are key agents of development. One reason for this is that when women and girls receive income, they reinvest 90% of it in their families. In spite of their transformative potential to reduce hunger and poverty, women own less than 2% of land worldwide and they receive less than 10% of available credit.

As one whose scholarship focuses on rural livelihoods in both the United States and abroad, I was pleased to attend three days of the two-week CSW 56 event (February 27-March 9) as an observer for the American Society of International Law. As a former gender consultant for the United Nations, I was prepared for some of what I saw (e.g., bureaucracy), but the experience also held a few surprises. One thing that intrigued me about the “Session”—which is not a session at all but a dizzying array of “high-level round tables” and other meetings, panel discussions, “side events,” and “parallel events”—is that discussion of law was relatively absent. Furthermore, relatively little of the substance of these gatherings focused on rural women in a way that went beyond adding the modifier “rural” to whatever issue was being discussed. Rather than engaging with the circumstances that often distinguish rural women’s lives from those of their urban counterparts, many of the sessions seemed merely to “add rural women and stir” in relation to a well-recognized (and admittedly very important) women’s issue (e.g., female genital mutilation, child marriage). Other sessions did take up issues more central to rural livelihoods, including spatial removal from services and agents of the state, and women’s roles in agricultural production. The lack of significant engagement with the particular challenges facing rural women is reflected in the fact that none of the resolutions adopted by the Commission was about rural women. Nor did the Commission adopt any agreed conclusions on the priority theme of the 56th Session.

In contrast to CSW’s somewhat anemic approach to the priority theme, Article 14 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) addresses the rights of rural women as a group. Indeed, CEDAW is the first human rights treaty to recognize rural difference, to acknowledge rural populations. While Article 14 guarantees to rural women all the rights enumerated elsewhere in CEDAW, the article also addresses rights specific to rural women. These include the right:

  • to be involved in “development planning at all levels”;
  • to benefit from “all community and extension services” among other types of education;
  • to “organize self-help groups and cooperatives in order to obtain equal access to economic opportunities”;
  • “to have access to agricultural credit and loans, marketing facilities, appropriate technology and equal treatment in land and agrarian reform, as well as in land resettlement schemes”; and
  • “to enjoy adequate living conditions, particularly in relation to housing, sanitation, electricity and water supply, transport and communications.”

Read more about Article 14, its history, and its implementation here, here, and here. Given the particular attention paid to rural women in this germinal women’s rights treaty, one might have anticipated considerable attention to the provision and its potential at CSW 56. Not so at the sessions I attended. I heard Article 14 mentioned only a couple of times.

It is a common bias among lawyers to presume law can solve problems and should be used to do so. Lawyers may be more skeptical about whether international law is effective at solving problems, attributing failures to the lack of enforceability of international law and the lack of respect for the rule of law, particularly in the developing world. As a ruralist, I have asserted that law is less effective at addressing problems in rural locales for some similar reasons. That is, when legal institutions and legal actors (including lawyers) are literally less present, laws on the books are less potent and the rule of law withers. All of these issues related to the relevance, authority, and efficacy of law were in play—sometimes explicitly, more often implicitly—in the attention CSW 56 gave to rural women.

Many of the participants in CSW 56 were not lawyers—nor were they UN or national officials. Rather, the vast majority of participants were associated with NGOs that have consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council. Indeed, on each morning of CSW 56, officials with UN Women held a briefing for NGO representatives (also referred to as “civil society”). By the middle of the first week, UN Women announced that 1,598 NGO representatives from 358 NGOs were engaged in the annual gathering.

At these daily briefings, UN Women officials offered affirmations to NGO representatives, assuring them of the importance of their efforts. The UN officials also offered updates on what was happening at the “high-level meetings” that few NGO representatives had permission to attend. In spite of their exclusion from many of the events where member states were in direct talks, NGOs presented a robust and varied array of panel discussions. A tiny sampling of the topics and their sponsors follows:

Women and Corruption: Grassroots Experiences and Strategies, Huairou Commission, UN Development Program

Empowering Caregivers to Build Healthy Sustainable Communities, Huairou Commission, GROOTS International, International Council of Women

Rural Women's Groups and Key Stakeholders Frame Joint Actions, Government of Norway, Huairou Commission, GROOTS International, UN Women, UN-Non Governmental Liaison Service, Baha'i International Community, Food and Agriculture Organization, International Fund for Agricultural Development, World Food Program, Landesa

Rural Women Speak: Land, Health and Rights in Africa, FEMNET

Rural Girls and Urban Migration: The Role of Communications for Development in Bridging the Divide, UN-HABITAT, Plan International, UNESCO, Women in Cities International

Measuring Change for Rural Women in Sub-Saharan Africa, Global Fund for Women

Here is a link to the official programming, and a full listing of the NGO programming is here.

While most commentators in these parallel and side events presumed developing world contexts, a few offered reminders that biases against women persist in the developed world, too, including in relation to agriculture. In other words, Australia, Canada, the United States (just to name a few) all have work to do to empower women, including those in rural areas. (To be clear, unlike these other nations, the U.S. has never ratified CEDAW and is not bound by it).

This sampling of events demonstrates my earlier points about both the relative absence of attention to law’s role in solving the problems of rural women (and perhaps, by implication, all women), and also the shortage of programming regarding issues unique to rural women. To the extent that the particular concerns and circumstances of rural women were center stage, the focus typically related to agriculture. Among these were issues such as access to credit and means of marketing their products, the relative merits of “sustainable” agriculture versus intensive production agriculture, and an issue that more squarely implicates law: women’s right to own land. Officials from UN Women reported that diplomats participating in CSW 56 were sharing examples of legislation that would achieve land reform and improve land distribution schemes, but in the next breath they acknowledged the challenge of getting these laws implemented and enforced.

The need for legal reform arose in other contexts, too, but so did law’s limitations. For every comment I heard about the utility of Article 14 of CEDAW (or some other progressive national or international law) and the importance of legal and policy environments that were conducive to women’s empowerment, I also heard words of caution about the limits of law. Government and UN officials were more likely to tout the power of law, while NGOs were more likely to focus on village realities that often undermine the rule of law. Among those offering caveats regarding the potency of law were those who noted that many will be reluctant to invoke it—including criminal laws—in relation, for example, to forced child marriage. (Photo above left: Marta Santos Pais, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Violence against Children, center, on a panel about forced child marriage; left is a victim of child marriage). One African NGO representative stated,

Face reality ... be honest. Even in America, who tells the law? Maybe [the victims and their families] are illiterate ... [child marriage] is their custom. Who goes to tell the law except the child? And how can the child go tell the law?

This is where all of us come in ... if your NGO is interested in solving these problems. You go [to the village], watch the ways things are done and then talk to the educated locals [so that they begin to see the social and economic costs of the practice, e.g., child marriage]. And they will know they must do something.

This woman, like many others I heard over three days, extolled the importance of grassroots efforts to achieving the empowerment of women.

Wherever one might strike the balance between formal law on the one hand and local, grassroots efforts to educate and achieve cultural change on the other, few coming out of CSW 56 would dispute that both have significant roles in empowering not only rural women, but indeed all women.

Originally posted to; cross-posted to IntLawGrrls, Agricultural Law, and UC Davis Faculty Blog.

"Rural" in New Orleans -- or at least uncivilized

That's the suggestion of this feature in Sunday's forthcoming New York Times Magazine, headlined "Jungleland." This quote (from a promotional blurb for the cover story) got me thinking about the tension between "nature" and "civilization"--and how that tension might also be articulated as one between "rurality" and "civilization." Are there ways that rural places--like nature itself--are lacking in civilization?
In the years since Katrina, New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward has undergone a reverse colonization: nature reclaiming civilization.
Here's an excerpt from the story that details the reclaiming power of nature:
To visualize how the Lower Ninth looked in September--before the city's most recent campaign to reclaim the neighborhood--you have to understand that it no longer resembled an urban, or even suburban environment. Where once there stood orderly rows of single-family homes with driveways and front yards, there was jungle. The vegetation had all sprouted since Katrine. Trees that did exist before the storm are now 30 feet high.

The cartoonish pace of vegetation growth resembles something out of a Chia Pet commercial, but it is hardly surprising to New Orleanians long accustomed to roads warped by tree roots and yards invaded by weeds.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Wisconsin law will permit wolf hunting, over Indian objections

James Gorman wrote for the New York Times last week about Indian opposition to a new Wisconsin law that will permit wolf hunting. The Wisconsin legislature passed the law on Tuesday, by a vote of 69-25. Republicans and a few Democrats supported the law, while American Indian interests, some Democrats, and environmentalists opposed it.

The authorization for the hunt comes as the state's population of gray wolves has grown to about 800; a professor of environmental studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison estimates that the state's "carrying capacity" for wolves is 1,000. Wolves in the Great Lakes region were removed from the federal endangered species list just a couple of months ago.

Gorman's piece in the NYT last Monday addressed the American Indian opposition to the hunt. He explained that the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Game Commission represents the 11 Ojibwe tribes of Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin. The Ojibwe--also known as the Chippewa and Anishinaabe--have significant wildlife management rights in the area where the wolves live, but they say they were not consulted on the hunting plans, contrary to treaty requirements.

The tribes' opposition to the hunt is based on religious tradition and principle. James Zorn, the executive administrator of the commission, testified to both legislative houses:
In the Anishinaabe creation story, we are taught that Ma'iingan (wolf) is a brother to Original man. The health and survival of the Anishinaabe people is tied to that of Ma'iingan.

* * *

Mr. Zorn said in his testimony that for the Ojibwe, "wolf recovery does to hinge primarily upon some mnimum number of animals comprising the current wolf population." Rather, he said, the gaol is "the healthiest and most abundant future for our brother and ourselves."
Gorman also quotes Joe Rose, Sr., a professor emeritus of Native American studies at Northland College in Ashland, Wis., and an elder of the Bad River Band. Rose said he "saw a collision of world views" in this dispute over wolf hunting. Gorman goes on to the compare the Ojibwe opposition to the hunt to objections to funding for abortions or birth control, which have recently been the object of a great deal of political and media attention. He writes:
What is clear is that the opposition of the Ojibwe is more like objections to funding for abortions or birth control than it is the calculations of scientists, not in political tone, but in its essence.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Rising gas prices send more rural Americans to public transit

NPR ran this story yesterday.  Here's an excerpt from Charlotte Albright's story, dateline St. Johnsbury, Vermont:
There is little question that rising gas prices are making life miserable for lots of motorists.  But for small rural transit systems, it's both good and bad news.  Good because it rings more riders on board. Bad because the cost of transporting them is busting budgets.  

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

More rural school travails

The February 22, 2012 issue of the Newton County Times reports on steps the Jasper School District has recently been compelled to take in relation to its tiny Oark campus and a course it is no longer offering there. The lede for the story provides perspective:
Members of the Arkansas Board of Education learned a little about the problems of efficiencies of smaller schools during its regular monthly meeting Monday, Feb. 13. Jasper School superintendent Kerry Saylors was on the meeting's agenda to request a waiver of the rules governing standards for accreditation by allowing the school district to stop offering a required word processing class at its Oark campus.

Last semester only one student was enrolled in the class. In October the student moved and enrolled in another school district leaving no other students to take the class.
Under such circumstances, Arkansas law apparently permits the school not to offer the course (presumably for just this year). To qualify for this waiver, however, the school district must jump through various hoops. First, the local school board must petition the State Board of Education regarding the matter. The school district must also provide proof in writing that the course is on the district's master course schedule and that the district has a teacher employed to teach the course. In addition, state school officials must make an on-site visit, and the school district must appear before the State Board of Education--which is what happened on February 13.

This seems to me an excessive amount of paperwork and--in particular--travel to and from Little Rock by local school officials and State Board members. Perhaps these requirements have been deemed necessary out of concern that, without such checks and balances by the state, rural schools may be tempted to avoid the statewide curricular requirements in light of the the very lack of economies of scale that are so obvious from this story.

At that February 13 meeting, Saylors fielded questions from the State Board, including questions related to the size of the school and the lack of enrollment in several upper division classes. Saylors reported that the Oark campus has 65 students total in grades 7-12. When a Board member noted that several courses at Oark have a capacity for 25 students but have only 1-2 enrolled in each, Saylors responded, "That's a common situation when you have more classes than students. That's the problem of the efficiency of that size of school."

Board Chairman Ben Mays then commented on Oark's "AP courses and ACT scores," but the newspaper did not report the substance of those comments.

Earlier posts about the Oark school are here and here.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The relevance of rurality

Journalists are in the business of telling stories, of course, and I sometimes find it interesting to note what bits of context they choose to include or exclude as part of their narratives. The New York Times coverage yesterday and today of the devastating events in Afghanistan intrigued me in this regard. The lede on reads:
Stalking from home to home, a United States Army sergeant methodically killed at least 16 civilians, 9 of them children, in a rural stretch of southern Afghanistan on Sunday, igniting fears of a new wave of anti-American hostility, Afghan and American officials said.
I suppose the authors use "rural" here to answer the "where" question journalists are supposed to cover (along with the who, what, and when questions). Why not name the place? No one would recognize the name, I suppose, because it is too obscure.

P.S. I note that subsequent coverage of these events has continued to refer to the rural locale, also referring to the places where the shootings occurred as "hamlets." Afghan President Hamid Karzai has now called for American troops to be pulled out of "rural Afghanistan," but not out of the country altogether. I wonder what this suggests about the rural-urban divide--perhaps a lack of oversight in the rural places, meaning that catastrophes like this one are more likely to happen there. Certainly, both Afghan and U.S. oversight of these small outposts in and near villages is likely more challenging than is oversight of bases, where Karzai suggests the U.S. military should be confined.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Income inequality at the county level: a (very partial) rural-urban comparison

The U.S. Census Bureau released this report yesterday, based on the 2010 Census, and the New York Times features this item by Catherine Rampell on its Economix blog today. At first glance at the Census Bureau map charting levels of income equality, it looks like a lot of the counties with relatively low income inequality are nonmetropolitan. But I see that some of those with the greatest income inequality are, too. Among the latter are counties that represent the rural gentrification phenomenon. One of those is Pitkin County, Colorado, home of Aspen, which has the fourth highest household income level in the country. (Pictured above is the Pitkin County Jail; in Aspen, even the jail appears salubrious!). Pitkin County's population is just 17,148, and its poverty level is quite low, at 8.4%. The county's per capita income (2006-2010) was $64,381, which wikipedia proclaims as the fourth highest among the nation's counties.

Rampell highlights these findings regarding county population size based on the Census Bureau report.
The most equitable distribution of income was in Loving County, Tex--then nation's least populous county, with fewer than 100 residents--with a Gini value of 0.207.

Generally speaking, many of the counties with more equitable distributions had small populations, or happened to be "a fast-growing county containing commuter towns within a large metropolitan area," according to the report's author, [Adam] Bee.
For comparison sake, I note that Loving County, Texas, has a per capita income of $42,220 and a 0% poverty rate. Loving County is in west Texas and oil wealth may help explain its relative affluence because the median household income among Loving County's 50 housing units is a robust $83,889, which is more than 20% higher than Pitkin County, Colorado's median household income: $64,502 among the county's 13,000 housing units.

An impoverished nonmetropolitan county with an even higher rate of income inequality than Pitkin County, Colorado is East Carroll Parish, Louisiana, in the Mississippi Delta. Indeed, East Carroll Parish has the greatest income inequality of any county in the nation. With just 7,759 residents, the Parish is a 7 on the rural-urban continuum (with 9 being the most rural). Its poverty rate is a whopping 40.8%, and the per capita income is just $15,947. The median household income is $24,038. East Carroll Parish is 69% black, and I bet most of the wealthy there are among the minority white population.

Whoever the "rich" folks are in East Carroll Parish, they would probably look downright needy if you set them down in Pitkin County. Indeed, comparing these two local government units' economic data, you get a stark illustration of income inequality across counties (and regions), which should surely attract as much attention as income inequality within the local government unit.

Drunk driving vs. rural livelihoods?

student recently called to my attention this false choice suggested by Montana state representative Alan Hale, a Republican from Basin. In a debate last year regarding whether the state should extend the "look-back" period associated with its DUI law and thereby enhance the ability to crack down on repeat offenders, Hale asserted that "pubs are important gathering places in his rural Montana district--important gathering places that are only accessible by car." Hale just so happens to run such a pub in Basin. Read the AOL story here. Some quotes from Hale's comments on the floor of the Montana legislature follow:
These DUI laws are not doing our small businesses in our state any good at all. They are destroying them. They are destroying a way of life that has been in Montana for years and years. ... These taverns and bars in these smaller communities connect people together. ... They are the center of the communities. I'll guarantee you there's only two ways to get there: Either you hitchhike, or you drive, and I promise you they're not going to hitchhike.
Funny, I always thought churches and other civil society institutions were at the center of rural communities.

Basin is a Census Designated Place in Jefferson County. Photo above is of a tavern in Darby, Montana, population 710, in Ravalli County.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Marketing upscale clothing, with rurality, meekness and devotion

I recently purchased some lovely silk scarves at a boutique. The tag on the scarves describes the origin of silk fibers, the history of their use and how to care for the scarves. Interestingly, the tag also uses the words "rural" and "villager" in relation to those who made the scarves. It reads in part:
The Intrinsic and Artistic Skills Of The Intriguing Villagers of Mystical INDIA Are Proudly Presented Thru These Varied Combinations Of Silks And Other Spectacular Natural Indian Fibres.

* * *
Your Purchase Also Benefits and Supports The Meek, Gentle, Selfless Rural Indian Villagers Who Are Seeking Salvation Thru Simplicity, Devotion And Hard Work.
Obviously, this was not written by a native English speaker, but the word choice nevertheless seems significant. I find the references to rurality as such a positive thing to be interesting in this context--perhaps because the scarves are not the somewhat crude handcrafts one might buy in a developing world country. I guess I'm thinking that most people buying these scarves would not really care that they are helping poor villagers half a world away--but perhaps I am wrong about this. I also find intriguing the implication that rural folk/villagers are synonymous with meekness, gentleness, and selflessness.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Oglala Sioux file suit against beer distributors

A student called to my attention last month a law suit the Oglala Sioux have filed in federal court against Anheuser-Busch and some other large breweries, along with four stores that sell beer in tiny Whiteclay, Nebraska, population 14. Turns out, more than 13,000 cans of beer and malt liquor are sold in Whiteclay every day, and the reason lies across the South Dakota state line: the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The New York Times reports on the lawsuit today, and the headline for Timothy Williams's story sums up the situation well, "At Tribe's Door, A Hub of Beer and Heartache."

The Pine Ridge Reservation has been "dry" (an alcohol prohibition area) since the 1970s, but a devastating alcohol problem persists there. The Oglala Sioux blame the beer distributors, accusing them of "encouraging the illegal purchase, possession, transport and consumption of alcohol on the reservation" where "[f]etal alcohol syndrome, fatal drunken driving accidents and beer-fueled murders have cast a pall over Pine Ridge for decades." The Sioux are seeking $500 million for costs that the tribe has borne for health care, law enforcement and social services linked to chronic alcohol consumption. The suit also seeks to limit the amount of beer that stores in Whiteclay can sell. The complaint alleges that the defendants "know that they are selling alcohol to people who have no permissible place to consume it, and who are smuggling it onto the reservation for illegal use and resale."

Williams describes the devastation that is Whiteclay:
After the lawsuit was filed, Whiteclay's two-lane road, Highway 87, bustled with traffic driving to and from the beer stores. Dozens of people in various states of inebriation wandered along the road. Other men and women were passed out in front of abandoned buildings. A Hank Williams, Jr. 45, "I'd Rather Be Gone," was among the detritus along the road, as well as empty liquor bottles, a copy of "Tabernacle Hymns No. 3," soiled clothing and a dead puppy.
Williams also explains some of the law enforcement limitations related to the easily available alcohol. First, the Sheridan County sheriff's department employs only five deputies, and the department is based 19 miles away in the county seat, Rushville. Those five deputies serve a county with just 5,469 residents spread over 2,446 square miles. That's a population density of just 2.2 persons/square mile. The Sheridan County sheriff says his deputies patrol Whiteclay two or three times a day, but with budget cuts, they cannot expect to do more.

Meanwhile, across the state line, the Pine Ridge Reservation is roughly the size of Connecticut, but it, too, is sparsely populated, with just 45,000 residents. The tribal police department has just 38 officers, a drop from 101 just six years ago. Ninety percent of the criminal cases in the tribe's court system are linked to alcohol, as are a similar percentage of illnesses among tribal members. Tribal police made 20,000 alcohol-related arrests last year. On the Pine Ridge Reservation, any sign of alcohol use, e.g., slurred speech, walking funny, can get a person arrested.

Williams shares an anecdote that highlights the inefficacy of the various law enforcement agencies in this place that he characterizes as "lawless." Williams describes a gathering of Sioux drinking in Whiteclay; one shouts obscenities as a Nebraska State Patrol officer passes. "The trooper slammed on the brakes and shouted obscenities back, threatening to call in the sheriff to 'clear this town.' An hour later, there was no sheriff, and the crowds had grown thicker."

Williams touches on another rural angle in this story--the role of the beer stores in Whiteclay's survival. In addition to the beer stores, the town has two grocery stores and an auto body repair shop. Williams quotes Victor Clarke, the owner of one of the grocery stores, which does not sell alcohol:
People don't want Whiteclay to go away ... The state of Nebraska doesn't want Whiteclay to go away because it allows problems to be isolated in this one little place. You hear people in the towns around here, saying, 'We don't want these guys in our town.'
Clarke makes the point that if the Sioux weren't getting their beer in Whiteclay, they could get it in any number of other places an hour away. By permitting the sale of unlimited beer in Whiteclay, the problem is cabined and concentrated.

This seems to me a truly pitiful effort on the part of all of the governments involved to address a complex and entrenched problem.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part XCVII): An interview with the Sheriff

Lots of issues of the Newton County Times have been piling up in recent weeks, while I have been traveling and teaching. The February 22, 2012 issue of the paper features a lengthy interview with Newton County Sheriff Keith Slape, with the headline focusing on his oversight of the construction of the new jail. But the interview covers a lot more territory than the circuitous path leading to the actual construction of the jail. In particular, Slape provides details of the budgetary and other challenges his department has faced in the past year.

Slape reports that he had to lay off a deputy a year ago and that his office is still badly underfunded, in part because of budget cuts made by the Quorum Court and in part because the county has not received Title Three funding that he "typically uses to employ two office staff members. " He notes that 14 other counties in the state are also waiting for their appropriations because of "bureaucratic problems." Describing the consequences of the funding cuts, the paper quotes Slape:
I had to borrow and beg from other offices. Paper for writing reports was a significant need. We made use everything that was purchased was an absolute necessity. We got down to buying toilet paper a roll at a time. Some things we did do without.
The county recently conducted an auction of surplus materials and unclaimed property, and the proceeds raised are being used to sustain the sheriff's office until the federal funds arrive. The 2012 Sheriff's Office budget is $265,000, up from $205,000 in 2011, when the Quorum Court had severely slashed it. The additional $60,000 for 2012, Slape reports, "is due in large part to the cooperation of other county officials who worked with him to provide a budget which he feels is adequate."

The Sheriff's office has also been able to save money by leasing high-mileage, older patrol vehicles from the Sheriff's office of a larger county. One of those vehicles had 70,000 miles on it, which is a low-mileage vehicle for Newton County. Slape also used an "Adopt-A-Car program in which local businesses and individuals made monetary contributions to stripe, add light bars and otherwise equip the patrol cars that were received stripped down."

The sheriff reported that his office's "command unit" saw heavy use last year. That unit is a converted FEMA trailer outfitted with radio and computer equipment. It is placed at the scene of special operations, searches, and rescues.

Regarding the several years that the county has been without a jail and paying to house prisoners in the jails of neighboring counties, Slape commented, "The worst thing is I have a pile of warrants here. Only the bad ones can go to jail right now." He says he can't execute misdemeanor warrants without a county jail in which to put people, and that people in the county know this and so are not being deterred from committing these lesser crimes.

Slape noted that those who have gone to prison in recent years have most often been guilty of drug offenses. "Those stepped up actions along with new laws regarding possession of substances and materials used to manufacture methamphetamine have had a positive effect in reducing the noxious drug's availability." But now prescription drugs are filling the vacuum, according to Slape, who said that the demand for prescription drugs is so great that even some elderly citizens are selling theirs to subsidize their meager incomes.

Slape disclosed that the international hacking group, Anonymous, had successfully gained access to the Sheriff's Office computer system. The Sheriff's Office learned of this breach from the FBI, and the office has now added enhanced security to its systems to prevent future incidents.

In other news, all of the county's officials have announced that they are seeking re-election, including Sheriff Keith Slape, who is seeking his fourth two-year term. The longest serving official is County Assessor Sheila McCutcheon, who is seeking her ninth term. Except for the county sheriff and the county collector who run as Independents, all of the current officials are Republicans.