Sheriff Varnell Blocks Donation of Health Department Building to City of Pawnee

Joseph Hoyt

Pawnee County Sheriff Darrin Varnell took exception to an earlier decision by Pawnee County Commissioners decision to deed the Old Pawnee Health Department building to the City of Pawnee.

In wording from the sheriff’s request for a temporary injunction, it states, “…the property appraised for $100,000 and therefore should not be given away for free when the sheriff’s office and county jail are in such dire need of funding.”

During the regular County Commissioners meeting on April 10, 2023, the commissioners had voted to deed the building to be used as a new police department and dispatch building. The donation was with the stipulation that when the City of Pawnee was done with the building they would deed it back to the County.

According to Pawnee District Court filings, on May 15, 2023, Pawnee County Sheriff Darrin Varnell filed a temporary injunction and restraining order, ceasing further action regarding the “donation of county-owned property to third parties.”

Following the injunction and restraining order filed by the Sheriff, during their meeting on August 21, the Commissioners voted that rather than deed the building to the City of Pawnee, they would lease it for one dollar per year.

Additionally, the temporary injunction and restraining filed by the Sheriff order stated that the Commissioners should “cease further action pertaining to repairs of the Pawnee County Jail until such time as the exact nature of the repairs and maintenance needs and the costs of repairs are confirmed by a qualified third-party contractor.”

The injunctions states that the Commissioners should be retrained from “expending any funds intended or that should be allocated, such as unspent jail bond funds, for the use of county jail issues so as to preserve those funds for proper expenditures.”

Finally, it states that “District Attorney Mike Fisher and his office to cease any participation with the Commissioners and Commissioner’s meetings, including attending executive sessions, and providing counsel to the Defendants as the office of the District Attorney recused itself from this instant case on January 9, 2023, and the Commissioners are now represented by Mr. Blaine Nice, of the law firm Fellers-Snider.”

Budgeting has been a point of contention between the Sheriff’s Department and the Commissioners.

In December of last year, Tulsa’s Channel six reported that Pawnee County Commissioners were concerned about the Sheriff’s Department’s spending. According to the report, the Commissioners said that the department had spent more than $200,000 in the previous four months.

The Sheriff said he's cutting costs everywhere he can, but his department is underfunded.

“Our jail food averages $15,000 a month. Our jail medical is about $18,000. Plus, then you figure in payroll at $100,000 give or take. That doesn’t include fuel bills. You know, these cars don’t run on air," the report quoted Varnell. “Anything we spend has to be approved by the board of county commissioners and the county clerk. And they write the check next door.”

Over the past months, the Sheriff and Sheriff’s Deputies have attended the Commissioners meeting discussing maintenance issues and needed repairs at the jail. Last week, the Commissioners voted to replace the cameras in the jail at a cost of $191,036.97.
The Old Pawnee County Health Department BuildingPhoto byJoseph Hoyt

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I am a freelance journalist, living in Cleveland Oklahoma. I love photography and finding interesting stories. My specialties are sports, outdoors, politics, retail, and human interest.

Cleveland, OK

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