The Erie County Drug Task Force was so necessary county officials went to voters in November asking for a sales tax hike to fund it. The force, which in the past was made up of officers from police departments across the county, would die if voters did not approve the tax request, they said.
Voters said "no," by an overwhelming margin.
But the drug task force was not going to go into that abyss gently. After the levy defeat, Sheriff Terry Lyons and County Prosecutor Kevin Baxter both tried to revive task force. They pushed for the Sandusky and Perkins police departments to commit manpower and conducted a closed-door meeting in a desperate last-ditch effort to keep it alive. They were committed after that meeting to develop a new strategy and revive the force, which had dwindled to a one-man operation late last year.
Lyons said he intended to have a second private meeting with area police chiefs again this month to hash out the details, but then abruptly changed course and announced he was no longer pushing for a revival. Instead, he would use grant money and maybe some extra county cash to fund a deputy whose focus would be on narcotics enforcement and some warrant servicing.
It's all so confusing. First the county so desperately needs a county-wide drug task force that voters were asked to give up just a little more of their hard earned money, and after that didn't work Lyons and Baxter wanted the city of Sandusky to jump in with some manpower, at least, and maybe some funding to keep it alive.
It was just that important, they said, but in what seemed like the blink of an eye, it wasn't.
The turnaround makes us seriously question whether there ever was a viable and well-thought plan to get the most bang for the public buck. It also makes us further question whether the task force had ever been held to the standards law enforcement agencies are expected to maintain in the areas of accountability and performance.
Sandusky police Chief Kim Nuesse and Perkins Township police Chief Tim McClung were perhaps reluctant soldiers, at best, in the ill-fated effort to revive the county team. They have begun collaborative efforts between their departments that they think might fill some of the void left by the demise of the task force.
But Lyons and Baxter still have some explaining to do. The vehicle they relied on to battle the scourge of drugs is totaled. We hope they will support the alternative efforts being developed by other law enforcement leaders. At the same time, however, they should explain what the county's efforts will be to fill the void. If they do come up with a new plan of attack, let's hope it's a better one than that which they abandoned. And let's hope they share it with the public in an open-door fashion.