Lumpkin County Sheriff harassed unmercifully by Commissioners

As  Sheriff Jarrard entered the room for the February 17 Commission Meeting, Chairman Raber greeted him with, “Just what did you have to do to get that article in The Dahlonega Nugget?”  Jarrard replied, “I just answered Sharon’s questions.”

Raber was clearly envious.  The editorial had described what a  great job the sheriff had done.

When jail expenditures came up on the Agenda, Jarrard was allowed to make his case repeating what had been stated in great detail during each of the last several Commission Work Sessions.  This time he was able to point out that he had returned some $450,000 to the County General Fund from his 2009 Budget.  The income had been generated by housing prisoners from other counties.

The former sheriff had described the jail as woefully inadequate and refused to house out of county prisoners.  The Lumpkin County Jail was constructed some ten or twelve years ago by a company that built motels.  Shortly after it opened, prisoners were slithering out the heat ducts.  Door locks and monitoring devices of the cheapest quality had been improperly installed and prisoners ripped them out of the walls.

When asked by Commissioner Stowers if he could not do a better job protecting county property from prisoners, Jarrard replied, “the prisoners are directed not to touch the property under threat of being locked down.”  He added, “of course, that threat would mean more if the locks worked.”

Stowers asked numerous questions of Jarrard and his staff clearly trying to identify and prioritize the needs.  Stowers said over and over that he knew the expenditures were justified. Each time he said it, Raber asked, “where are you going to get the money?”  When asked the same question by Raber, County Manager Stan Kelley stated that all county monies have been committed for other items.

As the new sheriff willing to bend over backwards to cooperate, Jarrard complied with staff and commission requests to generate income by housing out of county prisoners.  The sheriff brought back to the County General Fund at the end of 2009 some $450,000.

Taxpayers of Lumpkin County take notice.  Your jail is being operated, even housing out of county prisoners, with locks that don’t operate, inadequate monitoring equipment and no speaker system to alert officers if a prisoner has an emergency.  An injury or death in that jail will result in a lawsuit far greater than the cost of the repairs Jarrard has asked for.

What if some bizarre incident resulted in you or your child being incarcerated in that jail where deputies are unable to protect you!  The first duty of government is public safety.  For ten years our county has failed to provide a safe jail.  How much longer will our luck hold out?

After much discussion, commissioners voted to fund a part of the sheriff’s request.  We can hope that locks in our jail will soon work.

The sheriff has options.  He has no legal obligation to accept out of county prisoners or to return to the county budget any income generated by the extra work.  He could operate like the last sheriff and refuse to house those prisoners claiming the risk created would be unacceptable for the safety of his staff or local inmates; or, he could continue housing them and use the income for improvements within his own department refusing to return anything to the County General Fund.

The situation is truly disgusting.  Public safety is the primary duty of government.  It is one of the few items that absolutely everyone supports; yet, commissioners quibble over providing basic safety equipment.  They should have been praising the sheriff for doing a great job instead of berating him for trying to repair a clearly inadequate jail.

Jarrard goofed this year by returning $450,000 for the commissioners to dole out to other departments.  He now knows just what he is dealing with.  Bet he won’t make that mistake again.

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