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Thin blue skin 

I’ve joked before that I was concerned Sheriff Pat Hedges was listening in on my private, most intimate conversations. Now I’m sure of it.

That’s because, thanks to Patrick Howe’s story, published in this week’s issue but first released on newtimesslo.com, we finally know exactly what drove Hedges to eavesdrop on another top cop, former Chief Deputy Gary Hoving.

It turns out Hedges was afraid Hoving was “making fun of” him, behind his back.

Making. Fun. Of.

There was, according to what Undersheriff Steve Bolts told county personnel folk, no criminal case being investigated, contrary to what Hedges has said publicly. The details are all spelled out in accounts from county human resources people, who were the first to investigate Hedges. Their accounts were released in court filings this week.

Can you see why I’m worried about being listened to? I make fun of Hedges, too, although I do it in front of his back, as it were. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that Hedges is going to have to eavesdrop on half the county pretty soon, since everybody’s going to be making fun of him when they learn the flimsy reason he flaunted the law and spied on a fellow cop.

According to what Undersheriff Bolts—the fellow spy, with Hedges—told county personnel people, Hedges was told by Sgt. Jay Donovan, who was unhappy about a job move Hoving had a hand in, that Hoving was mocking Sheriff Hedges and taking credit for things.

According to the tale, Hedges didn’t seem interested in concerns Donovan expressed over how evidence was being processed in the narcotics unit until Donovan mentioned that Hoving was making fun of the sheriff.

Then, by all accounts, Hedges perked right up and suggested they send Donovan into a conversation with Hoving, wired for sound. Only they didn’t have the right equipment or something, so Bolts and Hedges ran a tiny camera through the ceiling tiles and sent in Donovan to try to get Hoving to, you know, make fun of Hedges again. Hoving didn’t take the bait.

What I’d like to know is how much this inferiority complex-driven drama has cost taxpayers. Thanks to Hedges’ taping, we’ve already had to foot the bill for a county investigation, an Attorney General investigation—they decided against prosecuting Hedges—and defending the county against a multi-million-dollar lawsuit that’s pending, not to mention whatever it cost to have Hoving retire before he was ready.

By the time the whole thing is over, it’s certain to cost local and state taxpayers millions. Thanks Officer Friendly!

And that’s just one of the many juicy bits of information concerning the inside workings of the sheriff’s office that are contained in the court records. Turns out the sheriff, at least twice before, bugged his own officers. One time, apparently, Hedges had a tracer on a sheriff’s vehicle to track him. Another time, they bugged another conversation when an officer was suspected of theft. Hoving told the folks in personnel that he was so worried, after he learned, a year after the fact that Hedges had bugged him, that he feared for his safety.

Hey, I’m glad I’m not the only one who fears the police. Even the police fear the police!

Other police agencies use outside agencies or a separate branch to investigate concerns, but Hedges keeps everything tightly under his own control. Stay tuned for more juicy details gleaned from the court files, because there are plenty.

Buyouts beware ...

It’s only because this story has left me cackling madly at random and inappropriate moments that I’ve decided not to take the buyouts the McClatchy media chain hasn’t offered me, since I don’t work for their local paper.

Actually, I wouldn’t take the buyout if I could. McClatchy is offering kind of a crap deal with the heavy threat that there’ll be layoffs if not enough people take it. Here’s the deal, at least if it’s the same one being offered to employees at other McClatchy papers: They can get two weeks of base pay, per year they’ve worked, as severance, along with three months of paid health insurance. Or, they can take a lower severance deal and get a full year of paid medical.

I don’t have anything funny to say about that effort. It seems to me like it’s set up to take the most experienced (and most expensive) reporters, editors, and ad people out of the pool. That’ll save McClatchy a few bucks at a time when they badly need it, but those self-selecting buyouts risk fatally worsening their actual product: news. The experienced people, and those who are so good they’re confident they can get a job elsewhere even in this market, will be most likely to leave.

And then you’re left with a newspaper staffed with everybody else, only there’ll

be a lot fewer of them. Do they believe there’s no tipping point, no point at which massive numbers of readers finally stop subscribing to newspapers because they simply determine there’s seldom anything worth reading anymore?

My advice is, believe it. And if you wonder how close to the tipping point you are: Don’t sneeze.

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