Despite a bit of grumbling among members of the Metro Lynchburg Moore County Council on Monday night, the Council unanimously approved the second reading of the measure that would allow $1.3 million improvement/upgrade to the Moore County Jail.
The Council’s five-member Budget Committee — Coleman March (1st Dist.), Wayne Hawkins (2nd Dist.), Gordon Millsaps (3rd Dist.), David Boyce (4th Dist.) and Tommy Brown, Chair (5th Dist.) — met last month and voted 5-0 to approve the measure, sending it before the council for the first reading at the November meeting.
The required third reading is scheduled for the Council’s regular monthly meeting at 6:30 p.m. on Dec. 15.
On Monday, many members of the council expressed their displeasure of the state mandate — a directive from the Tennessee Corrections Institute (TCI) — that is requiring an expensive overhaul of the county jail.
“This is an issue that to me, I mean we are sitting here and I know we’re gonna spend over a $1 million for something that really don’t benefit nothing back to the county,” said Boyce. “I understand that we’re mandated or whatever, but … I just feel like I am making a decision here that I don’t agree with and it’s because of someone else telling me that I’ve got to do this.”
“We’re the governing body of this county being told what to do at all times. I know you need more beds for the inmates and whatever. It seems like to me that we’re addressing something that is just really no benefit to the citizens of the county. I know we have to go through with this project, but it just burns me I know that, that we have to do this with your hands tied,” added Boyce.
“I feel like I just came here to say ‘yes’ and go on. Somewhere, if we continue this, you’ll break the county if we continue to bow down to everything they tell us to do.”
The Moore County Jail failed inspection this past summer for the first time in its 25-year history. Surrounding counties are in similar situations, with Lincoln County adding 250 beds to its jail at a cost of more than $7 million and Coffee County adding approximately 400 beds to its jail.
According to county officials, both of those jails will be at near capacity conditions by the time the additions are finished. That’s a struggle that effects Moore County as well. Because of limited space, Moore County Sheriff Mark Logan is unable to transfer female inmates from its small but over-populated female sector.
And the tightening of the TCI regulations has simply put the county in a bind. Without a remedy — or at least a plausible plan in place — there’s the fear that the jail could be decommissioned. While the jail would still be functional, Logan told the council that a scenario such as that could open the county up to a number of frivolous lawsuits by inmates.
If the county didn’t proceed and follow with the required TCI guidelines, Logan said the TCI would likely testify on behalf of any inmate who sued the county.
“I felt like we needed to get this on the table and be done in December because the end of January gets here in a hurry,” said Metro Mayor Sloan Stewart. “The quicker we can get this to them, I just feel like it’s less that they can come back on us and say, ‘Why did you wait around?’
“The quicker we get this to (County Attorney) John T. (Bobo), get this to them and get this sent up to Nashville, maybe that will buy us a little time.”
At the November meeting, Logan presented Council members with a detailed estimate from Bell & Associates Construction outlining the costs and requirements, which were based on a conceptual sketch from Cope Associates, Inc. Architecture. On Monday, Logan told Council members that once the contracts were signed, the county would not have to spend more than $1,353,530 price tag on the estimate from Bell & Associates.
The construction is estimated to take around seven months and should satisfy the state’s new codes for correctional facilities. As is, Moore County’s jail will not satisfy those requirements and if a solution is not reached swiftly, the county could be at the mercy of the state in regards to what kind of facility is built.
Wayne Rhoton (3rd Dist.) was among those who questioned the new TCI policies, which included a Jan. 27, 2015 deadline to have a plan in place. He emailed Governor Bill Haslam, to no avail. When that failed, Rhoton sent the Governor a letter.
“I emailed the Governor and it got sent back to me and I thought, well this is not gonna work, so I sent him a letter, and I got one back from some guy and it said if you have any questions or if I can help, let us know,” said Rhoton, adding that after getting “the runaround” from several government agencies he finally gave up. “I did find out that the whole TCI board is appointed by the Governor.”
—ROBERT HOLMAN, Editor and Publisher