Commissioners discuss jail options

Sharna Johnson

Commissioner Bobby Sandoval asked the public for help and solutions after voters sent a “loud and clear” message on recent bond issues.

“Our constituents spoke and they are our bosses and we got the message loud and clear,” he said during a Friday meeting.

“Tell us how to do it. If somebody out there in TV land or somebody that comes to the meetings has an idea (we want to hear it).”

In an overwhelming show of opposition, more than 72 percent of voters said no Tuesday to two county proposed bond questions aimed at raising gross receipts and property taxes to build a $33 million jail and courthouse.

“We need the public’s help. As our bosses, what do you want us to do?” Sandoval said.

“How can we afford to send $1 million dollars every year to Texas?”

During the meeting, commissioners asked pointed questions and expressed an interest in trying to examine and solve issues plaguing the jail.

Jail administrator Keith Norwood told commissioners he has filled all detention officer positions but is still six below what he believes he needs, informally asking for their consideration.

“I know money’s tight but any help or consideration… would be greatly appreciated,” he said.

The request sparked questions from Commissioner Dan Stoddard who said the cause of retention issues also needs to be examined to stop the revolving door for jail employees.

Stoddard pressed County Manager Lance Pyle, asking him what pay incentive detention officers have to accomplish training.

Pyle said officer’s starting pay is determined based on experience with a base of $11.63 an hour.

After a new hire is trained, the next pay increase they could receive would come from county-wide pay increases.

Stoddard pointed out that means an officer coming in with introductory experience in detention would start at a higher pay and a fellow officer who receives training and accomplishes the same level of experience is kept at a lower pay.

“These people are risking their lives to work at the jail. Be fair for the people that put time in,” Stoddard said. “What’s the incentive for people to come to work? Let’s see what we can do. We just keep spending money to train, and throwing money out the window.”

Acknowledging the jail is a “money pit” Stoddard said money spent on training is wasted when employees leave.

Sandoval told Stoddard he didn’t think special pay increases for the jail was the answer.

“We would have some very, very angry employees (in the county) if we gave (detention officers) a raise,” Sandoval said.

Sandoval insisted, despite the objection.

“We’ve been told to ‘fix the house’,” he said. “I’m asking the county manager to show me what the pay scale is.”

Commissioner Wendell Bostwick also asked Sheriff Matt Murray, whose department manages inmate transports, for a breakdown of transportation costs involved in sending inmates to be housed out of county.

Murray said he will research and provide the figures.

Pyle told commissioners he also plans to schedule a special meeting in the next few weeks to discuss courthouse security plans.

“Didn’t we already have a plan?” Stoddard asked Pyle.

“Can you bring that with you instead of starting from scratch and throwing out all the hard work that was done?”

In September 2009, commissioners approved a courthouse security plan to create a single, security checkpoint entrance to the courthouse. Pyle has said previously he didn’t implement the plan because it was costly but unfunded and would inconvenience the public.