Advocate editorial board opinion: Taxpayers bear heavy burden for DA decisions

By the Advocate Editorial Board
May 11, 2010 at 12:11 a.m.

If an employee cannot do his job, any private company would tell that worker to do something else or find other employment.

The issue is that black and white. Or green, as in the color of money, if you will. Private companies aren't charities and cannot operate as such.

Yet, Victoria District Attorney Stephen Tyler somehow thinks taxpayers should keep paying his office manager's salary, even though he isn't doing his job. The DA placed office manager Sam Eyre on paid administrative leave in April, based on a federal court judge's ruling in a civil lawsuit. The ruling questioned Eyre's actions when he was a Victoria police detective handling a murder investigation.

Tyler might be right that Eyre can no longer handle any investigative work in his office because of the credibility questions the judge raised. He definitely is correct that Eyre is guilty of nothing - the civil case doesn't even go to trial until February.

However, Tyler can't have it both ways: Eyre either needs to do his job or get a new one.

No private company would keep paying $42,000 a year, plus benefits, for minimal work - the district attorney has said he finds some occasional office work for Eyre in the meantime. When a company's economic viability is on the line, such decisions are clear-cut.

Unfortunately, this isn't the first time the district attorney has cost the taxpayers. He indicted city officials because he didn't like that they questioned the criminal investigation of his former office manager, or chief of staff, as the position was called at the time. That previous office manager, former Sheriff Michael Ratcliff, was later convicted of perjury, but the district attorney chose to extend the sad saga by going after the city officials.

The district attorney continues to appeal the case and spend more taxpayer money even after a district judge has tossed it out. Justice can't be measured in dollars and cents, of course, but this case stopped being about any lofty principles a long time ago, if indeed it ever was. To date, the city has spent almost $300,000 in legal fees alone defending its officials. The district attorney has not accounted publicly for his office's expenses on the case, but it's a safe bet to double that total.

That means the cost of the district attorney's bad hire is more than half a million dollars and counting.

Tyler followed that hire with Eyre, who was named in the federal case at the time.

Eyre should by no means be compared with Ratcliff, but the public should question Tyler's mishandling of both personnel decisions.

Any manager can make a mistake in hiring, but market conditions generally dictate the response. Few companies can afford to keep an idle worker on the payroll for almost a year, as Tyler plans to do with Eyre.

Insulated from market forces and apparently motivated by politics, the district attorney is costing the taxpayers dearly.

This editorial reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate's editorial board.



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