Sheriff will get benefits overseas

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By SCOTT PESZNECKER

Calaveras County Sheriff Dennis Downum, on leave for a year in Iraq, will continue to receive county medical, dental and vision benefits.

Downum accepted an offer last year from the U.S. State Department to join 1,000 other American peace officers to train a new police force in Iraq.

He was training in Virginia late last week and was to leave for Baghdad sometime this week.

Supervisors voted 3-2 yesterday to allow Downum to receive his county benefits for the first six months of his leave.

County Human Resources Director Francine Osborn said it will cost the county $3,250 to pay Downum's benefits through the end of June. But the money is already in the county budget, she added.

Downum will be paid $100 per month while on leave by the county, which will also pay his life insurance.

Supervisors must vote later about extending Downum's benefits for another six months.

That's because under state law, elected officials can only take six months of leave.

Downum's situation prompted Assemblyman Dave Cogdill, R-Modesto, to work on legislation to allow elected officials to take up to two years leave if they're working with the federal government.

Supervisors Paul Stein, Merita Callaway and Victoria Erickson voted in favor of extending Downum's benefits.

Callaway and Erickson, however, were reluctant.

"We can wave our flags and say he's serving his country, but they should pay for it," Callaway said of the State Department.

Erickson said she voted to extend Downum's benefits because he has agreed to keep in touch with Acting Sheriff Randy Grasmuck throughout the year.

Supervisors Tom Tryon and Lucy Thein opposed extending Downum's benefits. Tryon said Downum should have the option of paying for the benefits himself.

"I don't think the county should pay his premium when he's getting a full-time market rate for his actions," Tryon said.

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