Whitesburg KY

Prosecutor must work solo while four are on furlough

Letcher County Commonwealth’s Attorney Edison G. Banks II will soon have the task of deciding how to carry out his normal duties in addition to those of his four employees.

As a result of the state budget cuts, Banks said he has no choice but for his employees to go on a week-long furlough or unpaid leave of absence.

The Commonwealth’s Attorney has a part-time assistant, a full-time secretary, a part-time secretary and a full-time victims’ advocate.

Banks said although he tried to keep his employees from having to take an unpaid leave of absence, it could not be avoided.

“I don’t want to be here by myself,” said Banks. “I need them. We are trying everything we can to keep them here.”

Banks had been counting on drug forfeiture money to help pay for employee salaries for next week, but he did not receive all of the funding in time.

Banks said he may still be able to use drug forfeiture money to buy the furlough set for the week of April 6 at a price of $2,288 including salaries and retirement.

The office is also set to furlough the week of May 25.

“You had to pick them before Dec. 19 and the only way to get out of them is to pay for them,” said Banks.

Banks said he has a murder trial set for one of the Mondays after a furlough and said it will be hard to prepare for the trial without his support staff.

Banks said Internet bills, office supplies and other expenses are all paid with the drug forfeiture fund.

“We haven’t bought office supplies in six months,” said Kristi Skeens, the full-time secretary at the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office. Skeens bought envelopes and paper clips with her own money. The staff reuses envelopes and conserves paper by writing on both sides. They send information by email instead of hard copy when possible.

Felicia Wright, the victims’ advocate in the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office, ran out of business cards and started writing her out of business cards and started writing her contact information on Post-it Notes.

“We’re constantly figuring out how to cut corners and save money,” said Banks.

Banks said he didn’t have enough funding to send Wright to a victims’ advocate conference in Louisville where she usually brings back valuable information.

“We’re getting to the point where we have treaded water for about as long as we can,” said Banks. “We’re just holding our own right now.”

Banks said a local church offered to hold a spaghetti dinner to raise money to keep the office staff from having a furlough and a 70- year-old woman offered to answer phone calls during the furloughs, but both are not allowed because of ethical reasons.

“There are some people that would help if they could but they can’t,” said Banks.

Banks said he did not consider laying off workers because those positions would be permanently eliminated.

“If we quit these positions are terminated,” said Skeens. “I really like my job and I don’t want to quit. I don’t want to do that to Edison.”

Banks said he doesn’t want to decrease his employees’ salaries any more than has already taken place. Banks said that on June 1 each employee was cut four percent from their salary through April 30 and was denied the customary pay raise of three to five percent. At the same time his employees received an increase in their health insurance premiums, Banks said.

“Because the instant additional cut must be four percent of the total budget implemented in four months, this translates into an actual 12 percent that must be taken from the employees,” said Banks. “I am locked in on rent, equipment leases, phone, electric, etc., none of which can be cut into at this point.”

Banks said with the previous cuts and lack of any pay raise for the cost of living, the cut would equal to approximately 25 percent less pay per employee than they made last year.

Beginning Monday, Banks said he will answer phones, open mail and try to tend to whatever else he can and also prepare for court cases. Banks will have to run a session of the grand jury on Thursday by himself.

“Somebody’s got to get the mail and answer it,” said Banks. “There are things at the office that I truly don’t know how to do. If the copier gets jammed or if I needed to copy a CD I don’t know how to do that.”

Wright is worried about those who may need her help next week while she is on furlough.

“There are so many people out here that need help,” said Wright. “What if your home gets broken into? What if your child gets hurt? There won’t be anyone here to carry things out.”

Liberty Campbell, part-time secretary in the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office, said defendants will also suffer from the furlough because their bonds won’t be able to be reduced and Banks may not be able to speak with their attorneys in as great as length as he normally does.

Banks is worried about all of the work that will be piled up waiting for his staff when they return from the furlough on March 23.

Campbell is worried about what will happen if budget cuts continue when the new fiscal year begins in July.

“These furloughs are only going to take care of us through June and then it starts all over again,” said Campbell.

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