Last year the Blount County Sheriff’s Office chose to follow the advice given in the Institute for Law and Policy Planning Criminal Justice System Assessment Report (jail study) to hire a consultant to renegotiate the federal inmate per diem rate. The jail study said that the county was losing money housing federal prisoners and that the only way to make money was to crowd the jail and understaff it, which is what is currently happening.
The federal government is complicit with this practice because the US Marshal’s Service contracts with the Blount County Adult Detention Facility to house its pretrial inmates in the local jail, knowing that the jail doesn’t have enough beds. The State of Tennessee is complicit with it because it allows the Sheriff to unilaterally contract to house inmates in a facility that lacks adequate bed space to keep these inmates and also fails to move state sentenced inmates to state penitentiaries, leaving them in local jails.
The county received $58.50 a day, per diem to house federal inmates and a transportation rate of $14 an hour. $14 an hour does not cover the hourly costs of corrections officers. While we’ve been told in the past that the county makes money housing inmates and the rhetoric changed to offsetting fixed expenditures, the county clearly wasn’t being adequately compensated because the rate increased to $75 a day.
The company selected by the Purchasing Agent at that time, Teresa Johnson, and approved by Director of General Services Don Stallions charged a consultation fee of $65,000. The Summerhill Group LLC offered to be paid this amount only if they were successful at receiving a rate increase. See page 5 for complete details.
Being paid based upon success seems reasonable, except that another company offered to do similar work for $18,500. Moseley Architects required payment as services were rendered and said that the exact price would be determined after a meeting to finalize exactly what the county wanted.
The Blount County Commission and the Blount County Corrections Partnership (BCCP) were not told about the Sheriff’s Office seeking a consultant to renegotiate the per diem and travel rates in any meetings or in writing to either body that I could find. While the purchasing process is open to the public, many people don’t get the paper and most who do, don’t pay attention to the public notices for RFPs.
Why choose a company that costs 3.5 times more?
I have to wonder if the more expensive company was chosen to avoid commission scrutiny since the Sheriff’s Office would have needed commission approval to spend the money upfront, rather than promising to pay after the rate negotiations, unless some sort of transfer could be done. As such the commission was presented with a $65,000 bill after the work had already been done. The budget increase request was rubber stamped by the commission.
Take a look at the strange way the financial transactions concerning the funding for this matter were handled. First there was a transfer within the Sheriff’s Office that is marked information only (see page 20). Then there is an increase to the Sheriff’s Office to put the $65,000 back into the account that it was transferred out of (see attendants on page 19). Notice that the Sheriff did not date his budget amendment requests when he signed them. This looks like shuffling of money to avoid asking the commission for a budget increase until the Sheriff got what he wanted.
While the $18,500 proposal wasn’t set in stone, most reasonable people would have chosen Mosley, even if the actual cost had been slightly higher than the proposed cost. Instead local department heads went with a company that proposed charging 3.5 times the lowest offer.
Chalk this up to the same people involved in a pile of scandals and political obstructionism surrounding the jail. Some of those scandals include the cover-up of the jail study, the phony threat to sue the jail consultant, the million dollars jail expansion earmark done in secret with a plan for another million and the conflicts of interest, dysfunction and recent dictatorship of the BCCP. This is just the latest to be uncovered.