Skewed priorities?

Challenger Perry Reniff charges that Sheriff Scott Mackenzie spends too much on marijuana eradication and too little on meth busts

MAN WITH A BADGE Perry Reniff served as an assistant sheriff under Sheriff Mick Grey but was demoted to the rank of sergeant in 1998, when Scott Mackenzie was elected and reorganized the department’s administration.

MAN WITH A BADGE Perry Reniff served as an assistant sheriff under Sheriff Mick Grey but was demoted to the rank of sergeant in 1998, when Scott Mackenzie was elected and reorganized the department’s administration.

photo by Sara Sipes

By the numbers: The Sheriff’s Department spent almost $804,000 to eradicate marijuana gardens and patrol Lake Oroville this year and $112,000 to find and remove methamphetamine labs.

According to sheriff candidate Perry Reniff, the current sheriff, Scott Mackenzie, has his priorities skewed.

The sheriff, Reniff says, spends way too much on high-profile (but marginally successful) things like marijuana eradication and far too little on looking for and busting the methamphetamine labs that have become a dubious trademark of Butte County. And he spends far more money than he’s been allocated.

At a press conference Monday morning, Reniff pointed at Mackenzie’s own budget to prove his point. The budget shows that, so far this year, Mackenzie has a budget of $528,000, more than a half-million dollars.

That’s deplorable, said Reniff, who held the No. 2 position in the Sheriff’s Department until Mackenzie was elected in 1998. Reniff was demoted to sergeant under Mackenzie’s controversial department reorganization plan and is now finishing a one-year assignment in the District Attorney’s Office. He returns to the Sheriff’s Department in January and acknowledges that it will be “interesting” to be working for Mackenzie while he’s running against him.

“I just think that [Mackenzie] has his priorities all wrong,” Reniff said. “… He’s very inexperienced, and I don’t think he knows what he’s doing.”

Indeed, the department’s budget does appear to be heavy on the cost of administration. According to the county budget, the department has spent $301,000 more than it was allocated for administration this year. At the same time, Reniff pointed out, Mackenzie under-spent his operations budget (which pays for street patrols and investigations) by $133,000.

The department has also overspent its special-enforcement budget by almost $103,000, according to numbers crunched by Reniff. Special enforcement includes marijuana eradication and helicopter patrols. Much of this budget is made up of state grants, but Reniff said that doesn’t let Mackenzie off the hook.

“Even if it’s state money, he should be setting the tone and deciding what the real law enforcement problem here is,” Reniff said. “And the problem is methamphetamine, not marijuana.”

He added that the department uses only a fraction of the money it spends on marijuana eradication for the operation of BINTF, which heads up meth surveillance and busts. According to the county budget, Mackenzie allocated $804,000 for special-enforcement operations and just $112,000 for BINTF operations.

In response, Mackenzie blasted Reniff’s use of internal county documents to “cook up the numbers.” He added that the documents Reniff used should never have been given to him.

“These were working documents made for department heads and staff,” he said. “It was unauthorized that he had them in the first place. It was inappropriate and irresponsible on his part.”

Even so, Mackenzie said, Reniff isn’t telling the whole story. Mackenzie maintains that when the final budget numbers are crunched, he will have saved the county $170,000 this year. However, he couldn’t say exactly where the savings would come from, only that they would come from the “total budget.”

Mackenzie dismissed Reniff’s charge that he is overemphasizing marijuana eradication and all but ignoring meth production, saying that Reniff “doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

“You can’t really blame him,” Mackenzie said. “He’s been out of the loop for three years now, and he doesn’t really know what’s going on.”

This criticism that Mackenzie lacks the administrative experience to run the Sheriff’s Department has been dogged him since the days of his campaign. Back then, Reniff, in an ironic twist, was one of Mackenzie’s bosses (Mackenzie was a sergeant when he was running for sheriff). While Reniff, who was one of then-Sheriff Mick Grey’s assistants, claimed that Mackenzie didn’t have the experience to operate the $12-million-a-year department, Mackenzie insisted that he was just the breath of fresh air the department needed to grow.