Barton County Attorney Levi Morris was a little giddy when he examined his office’s case filings and convictions since he took the post in December 2018.
“I was pretty ecstatic with them,” he said, addressing the County Commission Wednesday morning. He had stumbled across numbers in a Kansas Bureau of Investigation report and felt he couldn’t wait until his usual update in January to share them.
“I started filing fewer cases when I came into office,” he said. “It’s been four years now.”
In 2018, the County Attorney’s Office filed 584 adult criminal case. The next year under Morris, “we pushed that number down to about 476. We were not filing bad cases, This was a better use of our time.”
This is old news, something along with a better conviction rate, Morris has boasted about before. But, what he noticed after looking at the KBI statistics and looking at the Barton County numbers was the success of the cases and convictions.
“In 2018, we filed 584 adult cases and out of that we obtained 224 adult felony convictions,” he said. “In 2021, we are still filing 100 fewer cases and we’re getting the exact same number of felony convictions out of it. That is what I was happy about.”
However, that still wasn’t his good news. “It got me thinking about the quality of those convictions.”
The KBI had announced its annual crime and violence numbers and the agency tracks everything, he said. He started examining the number of offenders convicted of crimes serious enough for them to register with the state (mostly violent, severe drug and sex-related crimes).
In 2016-2018, the three years before Morris became county attorney, the office obtained 15, 14 and 15 felony convictions respectively that required some to register. But, “in 2019, that number increased to 39.”
Then, “in 2021, we blew the top off and it was 53, which is triple if not almost quadruple the number in 2017,” he said.
But, “like the stock market, not everything can keep going up forever,” he said. “This year that looks like we’re on pace for 35,” but it could be higher.
“So the point there is just that we’re filing fewer cases (old news),” Morris said. “We’re obtaining the same number of felony convictions and we’re actually improving the quality of the convictions.”
The impact of crime
“I’m always looking at the recovery community,” District 2 Commissioner Barb Esfeld said. Looking at the figures, “it’s kind of sad to see that it doesn’t feel like it’s helping very much.”
“These numbers are not a reflection of recovery. These numbers reflect accountability,” Morris said. “The sheriff rounds them up. I process them and then after this is when we start talking about recovery.
“In my opinion, most people do not pursue recovery or treatment or sobriety until you get caught,” he said. “And so I don’t think it reflects whether or not recovery or treatment is working.”
Instead, by being caught and facing the consequences, “this tells me we’re putting more people into that phase of their life,” he said.
“I concur with Levi,” Sheriff Brian Bellendir said. “In many instances, it takes two or three times before they decide they want treatment, I want sobriety.”
Bellendir also had this to say about the working with Morris: “The most important thing for me with dealing with the county attorney’s office is communication. We have a very good working relationship. He’s worked very diligently with law enforcement. I think it’s an asset to the community.”
Eventually this will help to lead to sobriety and that’s the underlying problem, the sheriff said. “But accountability is important.”
Barton County Commission meeting at a glance
Here is a quick look at what the Barton County Commission did Wednesday morning:
• Tabled a Resolution concerning the involvement of sitting Barton County Commissioners on area boards and committees.
On Sept. 7, and again on Sept. 14, this item was tabled. Commissioner Kirby Krier proposed guidelines for this sort of involvement, as well as other possible conflicts of interest.
• Approved a proclamation denoting next week as National 4-H Week.
Michelle Beran, youth development agent for the Cottonwood District, Barton County office, was joined by area youth in presenting the proclamation. 4-H, as delivered by area Cooperative Extension agencies, has helped thousands of youth become true leaders, entrepreneurs and visionaries, Beran said.
By declaring 4-H Week, the commission encourages all citizens to recognize 4-H for the significant impact it makes by empowering youth with the skills they need to lead for a lifetime.
• Approved a zoning amendment for a tract of land just north of Hoisington to be rezoned from agricultural to light manufacturing service commercial district.
The Barton County Planning Commission received the application from the Alan and Kathleen Hoffman Revocable Trust for just under an acre of land to be rezoned, Environmental Manager Judy Goreham said. This is part of a larger tract located at NW 140 Road and Susank Road.
The application calls for the tract to be rezoned so a shop can be built for V’s Workshop, currently a downtown business in Hoisington. The business will be relocated to this location where the family is also building a new home.
The Planning Commission recommended approval.
• Ratified the repair of a Caterpillar 615C II scraper for the Barton County Landfill.
The Barton County Landfill operates a Caterpillar 615C II Scraper that is used to move dirt to various places on site for essential tasks such as waste cover and building roads, berms and evaporation ponds, said Solid Waste Director Jennifer Hamby. In June, the crank shaft dampner/pulley came off.
Foley Equipment made the necessary repairs. In conjunction with the crank shaft repair, the gasket on the hydraulic tank was replaced.
The total cost of the work was $30,000.
• Heard about the Hoisington Gun Club improvement project at Cheyenne Bottoms.
As a part of the project, the club has hired Prosser Dirt to excavate. The Barton County Landfill has agreed to accept dirt from the excavation with the county paying $120 per load, Solid Waste Director Jennifer Hamby said. The club is offering the dirt at no charge.
Dirt is needed at the Landfill to provide intermediate/final cover and for other construction projects.
In all, there will be overe 80,000 cubic yards of dirt.
• At the recommendation of Rice County, the commission appointed Dr. Logan Shetlar as a 20th Judicial District deputy district coroner. He will assist District Coroner Dr. Patrick Stiles.