The Blount County Commission rejected hearing from Alan Kalmanoff of the Institute for Law and Policy Planning (ILPP), the consultant paid to do a criminal justice system assessment. There hasn’t been a word about it in the local newspapers or TV stations.
The final report, commonly referred to as the jail study, was issued on May 31, 2014. The report was suppose to be sent to the commission and made available to the public pending some requested changes to a couple of data errors. The motion was made at the July 29, 2014 Blount County Corrections Partnership (BCCP) meeting. The race statistics were reversed. The white numbers were actually the black numbers and vice versa (page 8). There was also a request for clarification about a citation in lieu of arrest policy. You can watch that meeting here.
There was some discussion by then Chairman Tab Burkhalter about whether the BCCP should hear from the consultant or whether it should be the commission. Burkhalter felt it best for the full commission to hear the presentation. The next BCCP meeting took place after the new commission took office.
The new members of the BCCP were told at the October 28, 2014 meeting that the consultant felt that the final report was the final report and that any errors could be noted during the presentation on the findings and conclusions of the study. As a result, the report had not been fowarded to the commission or made publically available online.
My first motion, after election of officers, as a new member of the BCCP was to send the report to the full commission, thereby making the report readily available to the public because it would be in the commission packet. I didn’t move to have a hearing from the consultant at that meeting but did so at the next meeting on January 27, 2015. The motion passed 5-0 with 1 absent.
When the matter was presented to the commission, Jerome Moon complicated the situation. He wanted the BCCP to hold the teleconference hearing, ignoring the request of the BCCP that the commission hold the teleconference. I reluctantly agreed to postpone the request and said that the matter could be pulled from the future Commission agenda if the BCCP held the teleconference.
That teleconference never happened. The BCCP meeting where the teleconference was scheduled, was canceled by BCCP Chairman Jeff Headrick. Headrick did not reschedule the meeting, that he canceled, to hear from the consultant. His wife is a relative of the Sheriff.
When the matter was back before the commission, the Mayor emerged on the scene with a letter encouraging us to not talk about the matter because the county might sue the jail consultant. See page 34 for the letter. The commission fail for this obstructionist tactic, rejecting hearing from the consultant 8-12 with Jerome Moon abstaining.
The Mayor’s position seemed to be at odds with a prior statement on the consultant’s ideas. Mayor Ed Mitchell was quoted in the Knoxville News Sentinel on page 4A of the May 1, 2014 newspaper as saying, “I think he (Alan Kalmanoff) has good ideas and I liked what he was saying.” The reporter who wrote that story and later wrote about failure to discuss the report was given a county job, in a field that he had no experience in.
There was/is no lawsuit. In November, I filed a resolution to proceed with hearing from the jail consultant because there was no lawsuit and it makes common sense to hear from the consultant that you paid to do a study. See page 68 for the resolution. The commission (Agenda Committee) voted to postpone the matter until January.
This month the commission, rejected hearing from the jail consultant 9-10 with 2 absent. Commissioner Andy Allen asked Chairman Headrick what the BCCP’s recommendation was on hearing from the jail consultant. BCCP Chairman told the commission that the recommendation was to wait until we heard from the author of a new jail report. The BCCP made no such recommendation. In fact, the only recommendation that the BCCP had made was for the commission to hear from the jail consultant. Apparently it’s acceptable, to some, to completely misstate the actions of a committee to justify your position. I am left wondering why anyone would trust what some of these commissioners say and do.
Commissioners voting yes: Mike Akard, Archie Archer, Tom Cole, Dodd Crowe, Jamie Daly, Ron French, Karen Miller, Tona Monroe and Steve Samples
Commissioners voting no: Andy Allen, Rick Carver, Grady Caskey, Mike Caylor, Gary Farmer, Jeff Headrick, Mike Lewis, Kenneth Melton, Jerome Moon and Tom Stinnett.
Commissioners Brad Bowers and Shawn Carter were absent.
With no lawsuit filed commissioners Crowe, French and Samples decided to proceed with the hearing after previously voting no. Tom Stinnett flip-flopped voting no after previously voting yes and Mr. Abstain Jerome Moon voted no. The rest voted the same or were absent.
What I have learned from this
Throughout this whole unproductive process I repeatedly tried working with commissioners, reluctantly agreeing to unnecessary delays. Giving people the benefit of the doubt did not prove fruitful. The reasons for the delays and obstructionist tactics were nothing more than excuses to avoid public discussion on the study.
What the public needs to know
The taxpayers paid $94,580 for a study on their Blount County criminal justice system. You were denied a fair public hearing and opportunity for your elected officials to publically question the jail consultant that you paid because some of the powers that be didn’t like what the report said. That did not stop General Sessions Judge Mike Gallegos from using his position on the BCCP to try to discredit the ILPP study.
Where will the jail crowding issue go from here?
This is an important public safety question that effects your wallet and one that you should be paying close attention to. My diligence on hearing from the jail consultant should not be taken as an endorsement of every word contained in the ILPP report. I don’t agree 100% with the report. However, it does provide a good framework for us to use in reforming our criminal justice system and reducing our jail population.
The BCCP just heard form County Technical Advisory Service (CTAS) Jail Management Consultant, Jim Hart. He had previously conducted a study on the Blount County Adult Detention Facility (jail) and had written a report. He was asked to do a staffing analysis. He followed that with a report on his report and the ILPP report.
Hart’s report provided an update on jail numbers since the ILPP report. This is good information to have. However, it would have made sense to hear from the ILPP consultant before hearing from Hart. It’s as if some thought the ILPP report was written in Chinese and that they needed an interpreter, to explain the report to them by doing a report on the report.
Hart encouraged the BCCP to follow some of the ILPP report recommendations. Hopefully the BCCP will get to work discussing and recommending adoption of some the recommendations from the Hart and ILPP studies.
Some possible good news
The State of Tennessee is planning to open a new male prison that will have around 2,500 beds. This is good news because Blount County typically holds over 100 state sentenced inmates. I’ve been told that Blount County is near the top of the list for relief due to overcrowding in our local jail. The state hasn’t given me anything saying that but hopefully we will see a reduction soon in the state sentenced male inmates. The state is also currently renovating a facility to house state sentenced female inmates. The state is culpable in some of the overcrowding issues throughout the state; therefore, the state should be working with local jails to reduce their inmate populations.
For more information on the history of the BCCP, see my November 2015 Blount County Commission Report.