Jeremy's Notebook

The ‘Soft Transfer’

July 25, 2013

escambia county commissionWith scant discussion regarding Sheriff David Morgan’s recent offer to retain control of the county jail for another year, the Escambia County Commission this morning digested another report on the progress of the jail transfer and heard from staff about various particulars of the process.

“Everyone keeps focusing on October first,” Interim Administrator George Touart told the commission, stressing a “soft transfer.” “It’s not like the curtain is going to fall on October first, where the sheriff turns the lights off and we turn the lights on.”

Touart and staff are working towards assuming operations at the jail by the start of the new fiscal year. Commissioners decided to take over operations in the face of a mandate from the U.S. Department of Justice to address numerous concerns with the facility, as well a budget request from Morgan deemed to be too high.

Touart has said he can complete the transfer and begin addressing the DOJ concerns for $2.6 million or less. Morgan this week offered to manage the facility until October 2014 for that same amount, giving county staff more time to conduct the transfer and possibly leaving the door open for further negotiations following Touart’s recently formalized exit.

During today’s agenda review session, commissioners showed little appetite for Morgan’s offer. Commissioner Grover Robinson said he was “a little disturbed” by the notion of using $2.6 million entirely to hire additional correctional officers and mental health professionals, contending that the DOJ’s concerns were much broader and also addressed issues such as minimizing the jail population and working with the judiciary to take more advantage of rehabilitative programs.

“There’s more to the solution than just going to hire a bunch of correctional officers,” the commissioner said.

Insofar as the current progress of the jail transfer, county staff reported that they were currently assessing how best to transfer employees—with various contracts in play—from the sheriff’s office to the county. Budget Director Amy Lavoy said that much of the funds covering administrative costs at the jail were contained within the sheriff’s law enforcement budget (as opposed to the corrections budget), and would need to be carved out and brought over to the county.

Touart also told commissioners that he hoped to consolidate IT departments between the county and sheriff’s office. He said the move would save the county between $100,000 and $150,000.

County Attorney Alison Rogers clarified that she was not currently working towards a Memorandum of Understanding regarding IT services. She noted that representatives from the sheriff’s office in the public gallery didn’t appear optimistic about such prospects.

“They’re shaking their heads,” she said, “so I don’t know if that’s something we’re going to be pursuing or not.”

Rogers also informed the commission that the DOJ was currently drafting a proposed settlement agreement to present to the county. She said she was not aware of the particulars of the agreement, but that it would lay out what the department considered to be an appropriate response to its investigation and findings.

The attorney described her interaction with the sheriff’s office, primarily with its attorney, as “extremely helpful, extremely cooperative.” She also said that the transfer process was “very challenging,” considering the timeframe.

“I have to be very frank, the turnaround time is very short and it is very challenging,” Rogers told the commission, adding that she felt confident that the staff working to pull off the transfer could “bring it all in one way or another on time.”

Commission Chairman Gene Valentino said today that he had received several letters from inmates at the county jail who were complaining about certain conditions in the jail.  The letters were passed along to Gordon Pike, head of the county’s Correction’s Department; Touart this morning requested the letters also be forwarded on to the facility’s director.

“I’d like you to get me up to the jail to meet these people, to take a look and see what’s going on,” Valentino told Pike, also requesting that Commissioner Lumon May visit the facility with him.

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  • Dale Parker July 27, 2013 at 3:16 pm

    Rick, I see it the other way. I think that Sheriff Morgan is the obstructionist and that the County called his bluff and is now taking the Jail. Realizing his slush fund is gone, Sheriff Morgan is having 2nd thoughts.

    • Rick Outzen July 29, 2013 at 12:01 pm

      No slush fund – what are you talking about? And how has he been an obstructionist?

  • Lisa Pillar July 26, 2013 at 10:27 pm

    My question is: what is behind Morgan suddenly wanting to take the jail back? Wasn’t he the author of the idea for the county to take it? Now, what has transpired that changed his mind? What exactly? Just curious.

    • Rick Outzen July 27, 2013 at 1:48 pm

      The reason is very logical. Sheriff Morgan saw that Touart and Valentino has no intention of really working with him on the DOJ report so he had little choice but to hand the jail back to commission. When it became obvious that Touart was overhead on the transfer, he offered to take back for one year to give the BCC time to have a more orderly transfer. All of this he has said in letters and interviews. No mystery.

  • jeeperman July 25, 2013 at 3:36 pm

    So what I read above is that the Sheriff has offered to retain management of the jail AND add staff AND a couple of other items that will address DOJ requirements.
    Until Oct. 2014 for $2.6 million.

    Touart says he will spend $2.6 million just to get the county into a position to take over jail management by Oct. 2013. And only then “begin” to address DOJ concerns.

    Touart is going to spend $2.6 million and have nothing to show for it other than another set of keys?

  • CJ Lewis July 25, 2013 at 2:42 pm

    Although it seems clear, reading between the lines not spoken by Touart, that Touart and Morgan are not speaking, their staffs are doing so. If they are to the point of discussing badges on uniforms, the transition is already deep into the weeds. Kudos to Rogers and Lavoy who appear to be on top of things, as is to be expected of them, leading the transition for the Commissioners and Touart.

    It also helps that Childers appears to be really leaning into the transition and the Sheriff’s Office staff are cooperating fully. A hands-off approach by Touart and Morgan might actually make the transition less painful.

    On the downside, the true impact of the $2.6 million and what it will buy or not buy keeps rearing its head. DOJ said that the Jail was not overcrowded but was understaffed saying it needed to add 95 more people to the jail staff. These 95 people are presumably in addition to the funded positions currently unfilled. Unless we all misread the DOJ report, the Jail will remain dangerous until properly staffed with more people whether that number is 75, 95 or 105 more Detention Deputies and Assistants available for work given the current Jail population.

    Using numbers previously discussed, $2.6 million would hire 40 new Detention Deputies and Assistants at a planning number of $65,000 each. We now hear that some of the money is going to be used to hire mental health professionals meaning that the Fiscal Year 2014 plan is to increase the Jail’s Detention Deputies and Assistants staffing by some number less than 40. Someone should be forthcoming and put that number on the table tonight.

    By this point in the transition, Escambia County should be able to: 1) project the Jail population as of midnight on October 1 when it takes over management of the Jail; 2) calculate using DOJ’s methodology the number of Detention Deputies and Assistants required to be on duty; and 3) know how many Detention Deputies and Assistants it has on duty, again on October 1. The shortfall is the problem to be fixed, with respect to Detention Deputy and Assistant staffing until the Jail population is reduced.

    It seems unreasonable for Escambia County to bet on the Come Line praying that the Jail population will magically and very quickly be reduced, certainly not by October 1 and maybe not by October 1, 2014. At a minimum, you cannot release a prisoner to enroll them in a rehabilitative program if no such program exists. Moreover, the Judiciary is unlikely to rollover to the demands of the Commissioners and voters may not respond well at election time to Judges who are overly aggressive taking action to help minimize the Jail population.

    Next fiscal year, assuming it is allowed under State law, the Commissioners should remove the entire Corrections budget from the General Fund creating a new Corrections MSTU. The Corrections budget can then stand on its own two feet not subject to political gamesmanship.

  • twarted July 25, 2013 at 1:48 pm

    Absolutely classic – the commissioners continue to eat the “just trust me” pablum that Touart feeds them and completely dismiss the concerns of staffers regarding the rushed transfer.