County in Nebraska changes rules of sheriff jail apartment
By JEFF BAHR
Jan. 21, 2018
HASTINGS, Neb. (AP) — Beginning a year from now, the Adams County sheriff will no longer live in an apartment inside the county courthouse.
Gregg Magee, who has been the county's sheriff for 35 years, won't be running for re-election. So the Adams County Board of Supervisors has changed the rules.
Adams was the last county in Nebraska that required its sheriff to live at the county jail, The Grand Island Independent reported. That requirement was made by a previous board of supervisors.
Once January 2019 arrives, the county will no longer provide living quarters for the sheriff.
Requiring the sheriff to live in the apartment would eliminate a lot of qualified people interested in the position, said Board Vice Chairman Dale Curtis. A sheriff with a family probably wouldn't take the job.
There was no need to change the rule as long as Magee was sheriff, Curtis said.
Because Magee is single, the situation has worked well for him, said Adams County Board Chairman Eldon Orthmann. Magee lives on the top floor in the northeast corner of the courthouse, just north of the jail. He has served nine four-year terms.
Curtis speaks highly of Magee. "He does an excellent job, and that's why he kept getting re-elected," Curtis said.
Even if Magee's successor wants to live at the courthouse, he won't be able to. It will no longer be part of the job description.
The apartment Magee occupies was once the home of the courthouse's grounds supervisor.
Beginning in January of next year, the county will use that room for something else.
At one time, it was common for Nebraska sheriffs to live at the courthouse.
The sheriff's wife would answer the phone and cook for inmates, said longtime Buffalo County Sheriff Neil Miller.
The late Dan Schneiderheinz lived next to the jail when he was Merrick County sheriff. His wife and family lived with him. Schneiderheinz was sheriff from 1963 until 1996.
"In the old days when the sheriff went to bed, everybody went to bed. When the sheriff ate, everybody ate. That's how it worked," said Miller, who was village marshal in Clarks early in his career.
Before Miller went to work in Nance County, the sheriff had also lived at the jail.
Things began to change when jail standards were introduced in 1980. Jails were required to supervise inmates and do a head count 24 hours a day. Before then, in some counties dispatchers checked on inmates during the night. But in other counties, things shut down when the sheriff called it a day.
When Miller started at Buffalo County as chief deputy in 1979, his office formerly served as a bedroom.
Miller, 61, is glad that Buffalo County no longer has a requirement that the sheriff live at the jail. His wife said if it were still a requirement, Miller would have had to find something else to do in law enforcement. "Because I'm not cooking for the inmates," she said.
Her idea of a nice place to live was not "right next-door to the inmates," Miller said.
Way back when, the sheriff was responsible for a myriad of details, including things such as making sure inmates had toothbrushes, said Hall County Sheriff's Office Investigator Gregg Schultz.
When Schultz started with the Hall County Sheriff's Department in the late 1970s, the sheriff made only about $12,000 a year.
Like other sheriffs around the state, the Hall County sheriff was paid $3.50 a day to feed each prisoner. That money, called the Board of Prisoners fee, came from the state.
If the sheriff was able to feed each prisoner for less than $3.50 a day, he was able to pocket the difference. That income was valuable because their salaries weren't high. So sheriffs might use government commodity food and visit day-old bread stories to keep costs down. Cooks prepared the food. Trustees assisted with the food operation.
Schultz, now 62, was one of 11 deputies when he started. The average number of inmates was 70 to 75.
Long ago, having the sheriff handle a variety of duties was just practical, Schultz said. That was especially true in rural counties, which didn't have a lot of prisoners.
Information from: The Grand Island Independent, http://www.theindependent.com