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Kansas Supreme Court Selected Opinion Summaries
Board of County Commissioners of Lincoln County, Kansas, v. Wray Nielander and Jack Jackson, Docket 88,844
January 31, 2003

Summaries and press releases are prepared by Ron Keefover, Office of Judicial Administration, Kansas Judicial Center, 301 West 10th, Topeka, KS 66612-1507 (785-296-2256), e-mail: keefoverr@kscourts.org.

RE: Appeal No. 88,844: Board of County Commissioners of Lincoln County, Kansas, v. Wray Nielander and Jack Jackson

The Supreme Court today ruled that sheriffs, not boards of county commissioners, have the authority to hire and fire deputies and assistants and further that county commissioners may not require sheriffs to obtain advance approval for purchases within the department's approved budget "regardless of the amount."

The rulings came in a closely watched lawsuit in which the sheriff of Lincoln County appealed a district court decision that permitted the Board of County Commissioners to fire a deputy sheriff and required the sheriff to secure advance approval by the commissioners for expenditures in exces of $250.

Amici curiae (or friends of the court) briefs were filed in support of Sheriff Wray Nielander and deputy Jack Jackson's appeal on behalf the Kansas County Treasurers Association, the Kansas Register of Deeds Association, the Kansas County Clerks and Election Officials Association and the Kansas County Sheriff's Association.

Justice Bob Abbott, writing for the Court, said: "Where a board of county commissioners has approved a budget including necessary expenses, the sheriff cannot be required to obtain advance approval for purchases within the limits of the approved budget regardless of the amount.

"If an expenditure falls outside of the budget, i.e., over budget, then the sheriff must request advance approval of the board regardless of the amount. The board must approve the expenditure if it is necessary for a sheriff to carry out his or her statutory duties. If a board fails to approve a necessary expenditure, the the sheriff's remedy is to [file an action in court]," Justice Abbott wrote.

The case arose after Jack Jackson, who resided in Salina, was employed by Sheriff Nielander as a deputy, beginning as a part-time deputy in November 2001.

The county commissioners twice took action to discharge Jackson for the stated reason of unsatisfactory job performance. The second attempt by the board followed adoption of a personnel policy purporting to grant the board exclusive authority to hire and fire county employees. He was formally discharged pursuant to the new personnel policy on February 28, 2002.

The sheriff ignored the county commission policy and continued Jackson in his job. The commissioners then filed suit seeking an injunction to prohibit Nielander from employing Jackson as a deputy and from making any purchase in excess of $250 without board approval.

Nielander and Jackson successfully contended on appeal that the "Board did not have the constitutional or statutory authority to hire or fire the duly appointed assistant to an elected county official."