04/04/12 — Sheriff: It's time to fix jail

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Sheriff: It's time to fix jail

By Steve Herring
Published in News on April 4, 2012 1:46 PM

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Wayne County Sheriff Carey Winders speaks to the county commissioners on Tuesday. Winders asked commissioners for money to pay for an engineer to study structural problems at the jail.

A visibly upset Wayne County Sheriff Carey Winders Tuesday placed the onus squarely on county commissioners for any fallout resulting from their continued delay to make repairs to the county jail.

"I am going to tell you what, we have got to have something done," Winders told the board. "There have got to be repairs made and they need to be made now. We have asked about it. Debated about it. Pleaded about it and it is time to get on with it. I have looked at plans. I am about through talking about it. Either you are going to do something about it or we are going to do nothing about it.

"If you are not going to do anything about it, put it on the record you don't want to do anything about it. That way if something happens, I will be able to say I have been before the board of commissioners. It is your responsibility to operate this jail. My responsibility is to run it."

Commissioners eventually voted 5-2 to approve the money for an engineer to look at the jail problems and make recommendations to the board. Republicans Steve Keen and Ray Mayo voted against the funding.

Winders, who also is a Republican, said he had been in his office when he learned commissioners were discussing the jail and had rushed over to the meeting.

"I will tell you this, the people of this county have entrusted me to operate and run this jail," he said. "There are some major structural problems that require an expert. They require an engineer or architect who builds and knows jails -- somebody who knows how a jail should be built like.

"There are some necessary repairs. We have some serious security issues that need to be corrected as soon as possible. I cannot discuss them here in public, but I will be glad to discuss them with you on a one-to-one basis or committee meeting."

Winders made his comments after Keen and Mayo questioned a $47,823 budget amendment on the commissioners' consent agenda to pay an engineer to study the jail and come up with ways to correct its problems.

Items in a consent agenda are voted on as a whole, something that in this case Keen said he could not do. He questioned the money as County Manager Lee Smith read through the consent agenda and asked for an explanation.

"For the last six to eight months we have been evaluating issues in deterioration in the current jail facility," Smith said. "Among some of the things that we have ascertained are some major piping infrastructure in the jail."

County facilities staff looked at the issues and decided that an engineer was needed, Smith said.

"One thing that I consider, quite frankly, a design flaw is that you have one cutoff valve for water in the present jail built 20 years ago," Smith said. "It should be able to be cut off on all floors automatically and that cannot be done.

"We have flooding based on damage caused by inmates. It happens on a weekly, if not almost daily basis. Engineers will come back with several recommendations. For example, doors and locks that need to be looked at, but also the fire suppression system plus heating and air and roofing."

The engineers report will be brought back over the next 90 days, Smith said.

Keen said his question was for "clarity" on the jail issue that was discussed during the board's planning retreat, and that had included renovations and expansion at the jail and possibly leasing jail beds in surrounding counties.

A jail is a large investment and the county is 90 days out from possibly making a capital improvement plan part of a new budget, he said.

Keen then made a motion to strike the item from the consent agenda, putting it off to either the board's next meeting or next work session.

Smith responded that the fire suppression had to be repaired because it was a "huge liability" on the county.

"Let's please talk about it today because we have got a problem," he said.

Chairman John Bell agreed.

"I was in the meeting (about the jail)," he said. "We have cells over there that won't even lock. Inmates can just walk out if they want to. There are safety issues involved.

"Not only that, they have got leaks all over the place. Either we are going to have to do something with the jail or the state or federal (government) is going to come down and take this jail over from us if we don't get it fixed."

Keen said again he did not know exactly what the $47,000 entailed. Smith reiterated it was just for engineering and recommendations. The county would dip into its fund balance to pay the $47,000, he said.

A new jail is a "whole different" topic, Smith said. Whatever the county decides about that, it still has got to fix the existing jail because it is failing, he said.

The plan would be to phase in the work because inmates would have to be shifted to other floors or other facilities, possibly for weeks, Smith said. As such, those operational costs would have to be factored into the budget, he said.

The engineers later will also talk about new jail alternatives, Smith said. That is part of the $47,000, he said.

"I don't have an issue with the safety of the jail," Keen said. "That is not my whole point here. It is a consent and I can't consent to something that I do not understand. A work session certainly would be appropriate in my mind to have the sheriff and deputies and anybody else to come and sit down and discuss, whether it takes an hour or two hours."

Traditionally, when a commissioner has asked for an issue to be removed from the consent agenda the board normally does so and then votes on the rest of the consent agenda, County Attorney Borden Parker said after the meeting.

Once the item is removed from the consent agenda, the board can then take action on it, Parker added.

Commissioners voted 7-0 to approve the consent agenda, except for the jail.

Commissioner Sandra McCullen then made a motion to approve the $47,823 for the jail architect. The motion passed 5-2 with Keen and Mayo voting no.

During later comments Mayo said he had voted against the budget amendment because he did not know what the funding breakdown was.

"What I wanted to see was what part of this amount is going to be for a new jail," he said. "It could be that part of this money we don't have to spend right now. I have not seen a breakdown. I understand we need to do repairs on the jail. I agree with that. I did not know about this in advance."

"There is no money for that part (for a new jail)," Smith said. "He is actually doing that (recommendations) gratis as part of the project. This is all engineering just for the present jail."