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Commissioners launch probe of Ducomb Center operations

Sharon McBride
Sharon McBride

St. Joseph County Commissioners say they’ve launched an investigation into operations at Ducomb Center, the county’s community corrections program.

So far, commissioners are pointing to serious allegations, but the way they’re raising them also has left unanswered questions.

It all broke loose at Tuesday’s commissioners meeting. Commissioners had asked Ducomb Center Director Sharon McBride to appear for two agenda items related to the center, after meeting with her privately on Friday with human resources. The commissioners’ specially-hired attorney, Clint Zalas, started questioning McBride like she was in court.

McBride came to the meeting with her attorney, Jim Masters, and a crowd of supporters. Some of them heckled, prompting Commissioner President Carl Baxmeyer to bang his gavel for order several times.

Zalas was asking McBride about specific claims that commissioners had denied for payment at their meeting last week. McBride grew increasingly frustrated with each question, saying commissioners should have given her the questions privately so she had time to prepare answers.

"And this is a public shaming that I am a Black female woman, one of four in the state of Indiana, and only one in the county of St. Joseph County," McBride said. "And to have this type of meeting in a public setting is shameful, and intimidating, and very embarrassing to you, to myself as a professional in this field, who has never been disciplined a day in 14 years in the county."

Some of Zalas’ questions focused on McBride’s 80-year-old mother, Delores Walker, who works in Ducomb Center’s kitchen. Zalas pointed to the state’s Gateway database which shows Walker was paid $105,000 last year, making her the county’s 15th-highest paid employee. Walker’s pay included $47,000 in overtime pay for performing detention officer duties. Zalas said the department paid out $274,000 in overtime to all employees.

McBride said Ducomb Center’s high turnover and low pay has been no secret to commissioners and the council over the years. She said state law requires at least one female employee at the center at all times, and her mother is one of a handful of female staff who are willing to work overtime.

McBride recalled low staffing levels on a recent Thursday and Friday where Walker worked overtime because no one else was available.

"Being that she works hard, volunteers (for overtime), and they call her in, and what would have happened on Thursday and Friday had she not been there? Would you rather she had clocked out and went home, for them to attempt to make calls to try and find a female, who too had just called off that day?

"So to keep the public safe, and to follow the processes and the court order and the sentencing order, to go to the jail and do a hookup? I would rather pay Delores Walker overtime, yes."

The meeting felt like a court hearing, where McBride was the defendant, but people watching had no idea what she was being accused of. Commissioners on Wednesday issued a press release that shed more light, but it used words like “allegations, claims and suspicions,” without stating who’s making them.

Commissioners Carl Baxmeyer and Tony Hazen did not reply to WVPE’s interview request. Commissioner Derek Dieter declined to be interviewed, citing an ongoing investigation.

Some of the allegations reference acts that would be criminal. It was unclear why commissioners have hired an attorney to investigate rather than reporting the alleged acts to police for potential prosecution.

Commissioners also asked McBride about requests for payment to a former employee. Because the employee didn’t attend the meeting, commissioners agreed to continue that line of questioning at a later meeting.

Parrott, a longtime public radio fan, comes to WVPE with about 25 years of journalism experience at newspapers in Indiana and Michigan, including 13 years at The South Bend Tribune. He and Kristi live in Granger and have two children currently attending Indiana University in Bloomington. In his free time he enjoys fixing up their home, following his favorite college and professional sports teams, and watching TV (yes that's an acceptable hobby).