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Davis sheriff’s request for $15 million the very definition of chutzpah

By Mark Saal, Standard-Examiner Staff - | Oct 17, 2017

It's times like these that the inadequacies of the English language become particularly glaring.

With all that's going on in the news these days, we just don't have the proper vocabulary to describe it all.

But Yiddish? Now there's a language. The mashup of German and Hebrew, originally spoken among Jews of eastern and central Europe, has given us loads o' great words like "klutz," "shlep," "bupkes," "glitch," "schlock" and "plotz."

And, of course, my particular favorite: "chutzpah."

There just isn't an adequate word in English for describing someone who has the unmitigated temerity to do something that's so completely without shame or regard for propriety that it actually boggles the mind. Oh, we sometimes use the word "guts" -- as in, "I can't believe Trump had the guts to insist that cutting assistance to low-income Americans would make their health coverage 'better.' " But it just doesn't quite capture the moment. Nor do words like "nerve" or "gall."

And while there are a few other terms that might be more descriptive than any of the above, most of those are references to overinflated images of the male anatomy -- so they aren't particularly useful in polite conversation.

But "chutzpah," now that's a word lover's word. Plus, as an added bonus, I'm told if you say it correctly the very sound conjures up the guttural feeling of something so disgusting that it causes you to cough up a little phlegm.

• RELATED: Davis sheriff's $15 million budget hike request shocks commissioners

The word might have originated elsewhere, but we certainly have no lack of examples here in Utah. And for total embrace of the Yiddish term we need look no further than Davis County Sheriff Todd Richardson.

At a budget hearing last week Richardson asked the county for almost $15 million more in the coming year. That's well above and beyond the sheriff's current $33.8 million budget, and he says it would pay for a staggering 84 new deputies, jailers and other personnel, as well as equipment and structural items.

County officials rightly balked at the request, saying it would work out to a 36 percent tax increase.

I suppose you can't fault a guy for wanting the best for his department. And ordinarily, I'd pass this off as just another tone-deaf request from an out-of-touch elected official.

But what's particularly deserving of the Chutzpah of the Year Award is that Richardson's stewardship of late has been nothing short of a public relations nightmare for the county. Last year the Davis County Jail, which the sheriff's office oversees, had six deaths on its watch -- one-fourth of all jail deaths in the state. Three inmates hanged themselves within eight weeks of each other.

In two of the six cases the sheriff's office tried to pass the buck, insisting that, technically, the moment of death didn't come while the inmate was at the jail.

"She was breathing when she left," one sheriff's deputy parsed about Helen Ashton Miller's death of a massive spleen injury last December.

Another famous line from the sheriff's office regarding Miller: "She did not die in our custody and I cannot comment on what happened when she was at the hospital."

Jail workers even cleaned the crime scene before independent investigators arrived, basically destroying any potential evidence about what might have happened to Miller.

And no one got even so much as a reprimand.

• RELATED: Tainted evidence in Heather Miller's death at Davis County Jail is inexcusable

Richardson's office has also been in dutch for time card fraud, unauthorized and wasteful spending on travel/hotels, and improperly managing inmates' funds.

Given this shaky track record, if I were the Davis County Sheriff I'd be keeping a low profile for the foreseeable future. But not this guy. Despite these troubles, Richardson is insisting they do a pretty darn great job, and oh-by-the-way they'll do an even better one with an additional $15 million.

And that, boys and girls, is the textbook definition of the Yiddish term "chutzpah."

The bright side? At the rate the sheriff is going we'll soon no longer have to lean on another culture's language to describe such behavior. Soon enough, we'll have our very own word to describe something that shows such a complete lack of sensitivity to facts and fairness that it even shocks the people of this state.

That way the next time, say, the Utah Transit Authority board votes in yet another perk for executives we can all roll our eyes and say:

"Well, I'll give 'em this much -- they've certainly got a lot of Richardson."

Contact Mark Saal at 801-625-4272, or msaal@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @Saalman. Friend him on Facebook at facebook.com/MarkSaal.

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