Q&A: Mesa County sheriff candidate Benita Phillips
Name: Benita Phillips
Occupation: Registered Nurse; Wife of 39 years and mother of two
Education: Bachelor of Science in Nursing
Retired Past credentials: Red Cross Certified Childbirth and Parenting Instructor; Certified Nursing Home Administrator; ACLS Certified and Instructor; Certified Legal Nurse Consultant
Professional work history: Project Manager/Contractor to design and build one of Mesa County’s most energy efficient homes incorporating contemporary and future-oriented energy saving protocols and building techniques; Two duty stations with Veterans Administration Medical Center in Denver as Surgical Intensive Care Unit Staff Nurse and in Grand Junction as a Nurse Manager for in-patient ICU/Stepdown/Medical/Surgical units. In-patient units won Carey Award for best Nursing care in all of the Veterans Medical System nationally.; Occupational Senior Nurse Clinician for Saudi Aramco Medical Services with nursing/administrative duties required ensuring quality of care for 400 (minimum) up to 700 Saudi Arab clients per day by 14 multi-national MDs and 16 multi-national RNs. During the First Gulf War I helped research, plan and implement a HazMat unit for victims of biological warfare. Started, with a friend, an in-home visit program for army personnel stationed in Saudi Desert to visit expatriate homes for a meal, a bath and a call home. Met General Norman Schwarzkopf after program was in full swing who arranged for my and other in-home visit families to access sensitive military equipment and flight line; Director of Nurses in two long term care facilities. Charged with putting both facilities back into regulatory compliance. Started one of the first Certified Nurses Aid programs in Washington State. Started one of the first Alzheimer-specific units in a long term facility in Colorado; Past President of Mesa County division of WCC (Western Colorado Congress) with a focus on the preservation and promotion of Mesa County Safety and Health. Recently attempted to provide an opportunity associated with NOAA, United Labs and CU Boulder for a long term scientific-based to-be-peered reviewed study using trained and professional observers and School District students as the scientific teams for data gathering and analysis. Now active member of Citizens for Clean Air; Member of MRC: Medical Resource Corp as a medical volunteer for local and national deployment during disasters. MRC is currently supported by the Mesa County Health Department. Received certificate of recognition for Katrina-Rita hurricane disasters; Fully functional in all aspects of MicroSoft Windows Office Professional including Word, Excel, Access, Powerpoint, Paintbrush and Adobe Desktop Publishing.
Years in Mesa County: 24 years
1. MCSO has lost nearly $4 million in funding over the past five years, including 27 full-time employee positions. If you had to cut more, what would you eliminate?
Elimination of direct public servant services is never a good strategy for any situation. If further “cuts” would have to occur, that should include all personnel involved to determine the best possible way to alter parameters of services to save money and still meet the budget goal.
I would work to find grants and monies available for special programs and equipment.
Too often “elimination” of actual active positions looks to be the easiest thing to do. The issue I have with that is the Mesa County Sheriff department is the heart and soul of this community. They are our first and last line of defense against unruly and sometimes deadly forces. Those forces prompt the citizens to demand the highest order of honorable people to be out among us as keepers of the peace; they must be highly trained, thoughtful and observant of all diverse cultures of our community. Because of these citizenry demands, I put to you, can we ask these people to put their precious and cost effective lives on the line for us by making them short of staff? As a taxpayer, I have always believed public servants are taken too much for granted. As the Sheriff, I would re-look at a reduction of Sheriff’s wages, if it took that, to keep our Deputies in the community. Protection of the community is the pinnacle goal and that does not come cheap.
2. MCSO employees have not seen merit raises or cost of living raises in five years. Many are applying for and taking jobs with other jurisdictions. Providing you don’t have to cut the budget, do you have a strategy for retaining those employees?
At the time I started at the Veterans Administration, the Nursing staff told me they had received no wage increases for over a decade. Since the question indicates the Deputies are going to “other jurisdictions,” it says they don’t want to leave law enforcement. The Nurses did not want to leave the VA either. So what is the best thing in your job to make it better? For the Nurses it was to have more control of their working environment. We set goals and won the Carey Award for the best care nationally. They wanted to go to 12 hour shifts and attempt to get at least every third or every other weekend off. They then made their own schedules. The bottom line of leadership is you can’t be, get or give all things to all. As a leader you can share many problems with a professional staff, thereby giving more control over a working environment and encouraging creativity in fulfillment of duties and even save money.
3. MCSO has a national reputation for use of drones. Do you support the program as it exists? What changes if any would you make?
Drones are a quantum jump in technology for law enforcement. Record of flights can be recorded and under some circumstances be televised to the public for help. They could follow high speed escaping perpetrators, possibly deploying a magnetic GPS to follow at a safe distance and speed and arrest under more controlled scenarios. They are already being used in search and rescue incidences, and logistically speaking there is no reason they cannot be used to find victims of any disaster where human and animal and vehicles are not appropriate. They could be used by the health department for air quality testing or monitor water reservoirs and canals. They could be used for fire danger analysis. Schools could use them to gather information in real time to have discussions and expand their knowledge about Mesa County. Used in this manner there maybe grants available to expand the drone program.
4. In your analysis of MCSO, do you plan on reorganizing the agency? What do you see as excess and what needs to be augmented?
I can tell you my philosophy of reorganizing: “We trained hard…But it seemed that every time we were beginning to form up into teams, we would be reorganized. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency and demoralization. Petronius Arbiter 210 BC
I have studied the organization only from afar through the computer window, so this is a very premature question. “Reorganization” of any agency needs careful thorough study, including through the eyes of those it will effect and the long term effects on the community.
5. Under your leadership, will MCSO continue on occasion to partner with federal law enforcement agencies?
The professional Deputies of the Sheriff’s office know, understand, and can interact faster and more accurately if they are in the field watching over their jurisdiction and consulting with the Federal representatives rather than not participating at all. The key word in that question is “partner” and that is what I would expect from a Federal agency. Mesa County Deputy Sheriff personnel should always be on even authority levels with any other law enforcement entity they may have occasion to work within the Mesa County jurisdiction.