JEFFERSON CITY -- The real intent of a letter signed by 62 Missouri sheriffs that insinuates Gov. Bob Holden has been tardy in joining the fight against methamphetamine is to urge him to support legislation that would boost local law enforcement funding, according to some area sheriffs.
Holden, a Democrat, announced a new initiative on methamphetamine two weeks ago that included the formation of two task forces -- one focusing on education and prevention and the other targeting the best ways to treat addicts. Holden also reorganized an existing task force on the enforcement of anti-methamphetamine laws.
"The governor is committed to fighting meth," said Mary Still, the governor's spokeswoman. "A lot of law enforcement is joining together on these task forces."
The letter signed by 33 Republican sheriffs along with 28 Democrats and one independent says "many law enforcement officials are puzzled as to where the governor has been the last few years" as sheriff departments have grappled with Missouri's "horrific" methamphetamine problem.
The letter also praises the work of U.S. Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., in providing federal funds for anti-meth efforts and expresses the hope that the governor's initiative "isn't just more campaign rhetoric out of Jefferson City."
However, the letter doesn't express a particular opinion on the details of Holden's initiative.
Cape Girardeau County Sheriff John Jordan, a Republican, said state government as a whole -- and he includes the GOP-led legislature in his criticism -- hasn't provided local law enforcement with the needed financial resources to combat methamphetamine.
"The state hasn't done anything on the battle against methamphetamine, except for some good criminal laws," Jordan said. "Monetarily there is nothing there."
New Madrid County Sheriff Terry Stevens, a Democrat, agreed. "This meth problem is our greatest battle throughout the state now. Everyone is underfundeded and under manned. We need more resources."
Stevens said the letter was designed as a show of solidarity among the sheriffs and was not politically motivated. The sheriffs, he added, are seeking a more efficient way to battle the drug problem.
Stoddard County Sheriff Steve Fish, a Democrat, said he signed the letter because it urges Holden to endorse a bill that would authorize counties to establish special law enforcement accounts financed through fees paid by criminal defendants.
"Primarily, Missouri sheriffs are upset with Governor Holden about not signing a bill he promised to sign," Fish said.
Holden vetoed such legislation last year citing constitutional flaws.
However, David Cosgrove, the governor's chief legal counsel, helped draft this year's version of the bill in the hopes of producing a measure Holden is comfortable signing into law.
The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Rob Mayer, R-Dexter, would allow judges to order criminal defendants who receive probation to pay as much as $275 into a "law enforcement restitution fund." The money would be earmarked for various law enforcement initiatives, including anti-narcotics efforts.
Many rural counties had such accounts, previously called "crime reduction funds," until 1998 when a judicial commission determined they were established without legal authority. Southeast Missouri lawmakers have been working to have them reinstated ever since.
Mississippi County Sheriff Larry Turley, a Democrat, said such funds provided the only means for small counties to pay for anti-drug efforts.
"The county commission has no money to give us to fight drugs with," Turley said. "The crime reduction fund provided all of our money to fight drugs, and it worked great."
Other Southeast Missouri sheriffs to sign the letter included those in Carter, Iron, Cape Girardeau and Reynolds counties.