Sheriff Dennis Downum will keep his medical benefits while overseas in Iraq, Calaveras County supervisors decided Monday after a patriotism debate inspired by the controversy.
Downum left for service in Iraq Dec. 28 to train Iraqi police officers in procedures and policies used by their American counterparts. He is working for a private company under contract with the U.S. government.
In March, Supervisor Merita Callaway asked for a revote on the board´s January decision to approve Downum´s medical, dental and vision benefits as part of a one-year leave of absence. That vote passed on a 3-2 vote with Supervisors Tom Tryon and Lucy Thein in opposition.
“We all have those moments when we make a decision, pause and reassess,” Callaway said. “It´s a taxpayer issue. This is not about war, the flag, patriotism or terrorism.”
Acting Sheriff Randy Grasmuck told the board Monday it is a patriotic decision. “I know how it feels to be overseas and have no control over what´s happening at home,” Grasmuck said. Those who don´t support Downum´s benefits “have never sent their sons or daughters to war,” he said.
“I don´t want to talk about patriotism. …. Most of you don´t have one of these,” Callaway said as she held up her dad´s military service flag given to her mother at his funeral.
Callaway´s father, Merritt Adelman, after who she is named, was a colonel in the Marine Corps. He was given an 18-gun salute at his funeral in Colma four years ago. Before retiring he served as a combat officer in Korea and World War II and was based in Cuba for a time, Callaway said.
“I was raised as a daughter in the Marine Corps,” she said. Callaway even worked at the PX, the military store, while in Cuba.
Callaway´s sister Tama Adelman was a nurse for the Army in Vietnam. “So, don´t talk to me about patriotism,” she said.
Downum supporters told the board it would be wrong to take away his benefits after already giving them. Supervisors Tryon and Thein agreed.
Tryon said Downum has a reasonable expectation to receive his benefits since the county has already offered them. “It´s such a small contribution compared to other (county) expenses,” Thein said. Downum´s health benefits cost $650 a month.
Clarence Hartley of Angels Camp suggested the county consider Downum´s leave as continuing education saying, “He will come back more experienced and more alerted.”
“Dennis is one of the most generous, honest people I´ve ever met,” Ed Anderson of Burson said. “We should send a letter thanking him.”
“Downum is becoming famous,” Kristen Anderson said, noting that the National Veterans News Network is carrying his story. If his benefits were revoked, “The Board of Supervisors is not going to be viewed in a very good light.”
“Leave the man alone. He´s got his life on the line,” Frank Ginger of Valley Springs said.
Two speakers said his benefits should be revoked.
If supervisors pay Downum´s benefits, they should pay for everyone from Calaveras County serving in Iraq, Kathi Bachelor of Arnold said.
“He chose to do this. His household had to sit down and know what it would cost them,” Roseann Hunt of Mokelumne Hill said. He ran for office but he went away to fulfill his dream. It´s great, but not on our money,” she said.
“This wasn´t Downum´s idea, this was my idea,” Supervisor Paul Stein said about the county paying the benefits. “A deal is a deal. .… Are we really that petty? I mean, come on. That´s just meanspirited to take them away now.”
“I don´t regret bringing this back,” Callaway said. “I e-mailed (Downum) to tell him what I was doing and he told me to do what I needed to do.”
The revote failed on a lack of a second to Callaway´s motion.
Calaveras Enterprise story by Vanessa Turner. For more Calaveras news, click:calaverasenterprise.com