The state has joined an ongoing power struggle between two committees in Warren County government.
According to a letter from Tennessee Corrections Institute’s Detention Facilities manager Bob Bass, the county’s Corrections Partnership Committee was never intended to be a permanent committee or have any authority over the jail.
“Since its inception, the dissolving of the committee has always been a goal once the jail has corrected its failure to meet standards without a plan of action,” said Bass. “No authority of oversight was ever intended. If a county legislative body wants to make this a standing committee and continue it indefinitely with oversight power it could possibly stray from the spirit of the original intent.”
Over the last several weeks, the temporary committee has been embroiled in power struggle with the county’s Safety Committee over which committee should be reviewing the jail’s annual budget and any budget transfers within the jail’s budget during the fiscal year.
The Safety Committee has traditionally overseen those two budgetary aspects. However, Corrections Partnership members now want those responsibilities.
Corrections Partnership chair Commissioner Steven Helton, who has argued against the assertion by other commissioners that his committee was intended to someday go dormant, conceded to just that during Tuesday night’s Corrections Partnership Committee meeting.
“Nobody handed me a book and said this is how to be a chairman of county corrections,” said Helton. “So, we just took it and ran with it. What we did was put down a description of what we’ve been doing, and I think that’s what we have in front of us tonight as well.”
Helton gave his interpretation of the letter.
“In a two-page letter from Bob Bass, he said he did not feel the intent of County Corrections Partnership was to be a standing committee,” said Helton. “It was to do its job and get the jail up to speed and, sort of, go dormant. With that being said, he also indicated in this same letter if Warren County wants to do it, there’s nothing keeping you from it.”
He presented the following for consideration: 1) change the committee’s designation from special to standing to make it a permanent committee; 2) change its name to Criminal Justice Committee; 3) approve a new mission statement that outlines its authority. All three require approval by the Warren County Commission.
Mission statement: “To aid and assist the Criminal Justice System stakeholders of Warren County to properly maintain and ensure Warren County Jail meets state and national standards. Also facilitate opportunities for inmate education, treatment, and reform. Be a liaison between the stakeholders and the Criminal Justice System of Warren County to the County Commission.”
Among other duties listed:
• Maintain communication with the local criminal justice system.
• Work with stakeholders to formulate a plan to address immediate and future needs of the jail
• Assist in maintaining jail certification.
• Assist in review of inmate concerns and liability.
• Engage stakeholders (District Attorney, Public Defender, Judges, County Clerk, Probation, Sheriff, City Police, County Executive, City Mayor, etc.) in the Criminal Justice System with the Criminal Justice Committee.
Commissioner Joseph Stotts expressed approval.
“This has nothing to do with wanting to be the boss of anything or to dictate anybody’s budget,” said Stotts. “I’m envisioning this committee to help the system, an assistant to the system that has all these integral parts.”
Corrections Partnership Committee members unanimously approved a motion to change its name to Criminal Justice Committee, as well as accept the mission statement and responsibilities as presented by Helton.
Full County Commission approval is required.