Back in early May of this year I sent an email to Jeff French, the Chief Deputy of the Blount County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO), asking for a copy of the Intergovernmental Agreement between the BCSO and the United States Marshals Service which establishes the daily inmate per diem amount and travel rate and for the paperwork that was used to determine those rates. About a week later, Deputy Chief Jarrod Millsaps emailed me the Intergovernmental Agreement but I never received anything related to the paperwork that was used to determine the federal per diem rate.
The specific form that the federal government requires is the Form USM-243. My request was broader than just this form because I wasn’t sure if anything else related to the rate had been submitted. Thus, my request was for all of the paperwork related to the determination of the per diem and travel rates. Remember that the county paid a company 3.5 times more than the low bid to submit the paperwork for a new rate.
Several months passed without receiving a response from French or the paperwork determining the rates. As such, I contacted the Office of Open Records Counsel (OORC) in the Comptroller’s Office to obtain their help. About a month passed when Ann Butterworth in the OORC emailed me saying that Chief French told her that the BCSO did not have the Form USM-243 and that a nonresponse constitutes denial under the Open Records Act of Tennessee.
I thought that was the end of my open records request. You can’t get blood out of a turnip. If the BCSO doesn’t have the Form USM-243 then my only option to obtain the paperwork it is to do a Freedom of Information Act request with the federal government.
About a week later, I got an email from attorney Craig Garrett’s office with this attached letter denying that the BCSO had failed to respond to an open records request. His contention is that my original request wasn’t a valid request under the Open Records Act; therefore, the BCSO didn’t have to respond.
Really? Why do people go to such great lengths in responding to explain why they didn’t respond in the first place? If French had taken 1 minute to email me to explain that the BCSO didn’t have the records that I was requesting, there would have been no need to contact an attorney at taxpayer expense to provide a response. If people would just do their jobs the taxpayers would be better served and no one have to lawyer up for failing to respond to a request.
Perhaps the most alarming thing is the discovery that the BCSO doesn’t have the Form USM-243. The BCSO has long maintained that the county makes money housing federal inmates. How can that statement be made with a straight face when the BCSO isn’t even in possession of the paperwork used to determine the per diem rate? Has the BCSO done its own analysis on the cost of housing inmates? If so, why pay a company to do it for you? If not, there is little if any reason to believe that the county benefits financially by keeping federal inmates in the Blount County Adult Detention Center.