A power struggle is underway between two committees in Warren County government.
The county’s Corrections Partnership Committee is attempting to take the budgetary reins over Warren County Jail, an effort that angered members of the county’s Safety Committee who were in attendance when the gauntlet was thrown down.
“You are way overstepping your boundaries here, son,” said Commissioner Ron Lee, chairman of Safety, to Commissioner Steven Helton, chairman of Corrections Partnership.
That statement came during Thursday night’s meeting of the county’s Corrections Partnership Committee and just before its members unanimously voted on a written statement outlining the committee’s responsibilities and description.
The document included two provisions pertaining to the jail’s budget approval process and both established Corrections Partnership’s domain over it, a longstanding responsibility of Safety Committee members.
First, that the committee “is responsible for reviewing and approving the annual budget for the Warren County Jail. It will be passed to Budget and Finance Committee with a recommendation.”
Second, that “during the fiscal year budget amendments are needed for the Jail County Corrections Committee will review and make recommendations. They will then be passed to Budget and Finance Committee with a recommendation.”
Each standing committee was asked to provide a written statement of its responsibilities to the county’s Legislative Committee. Those descriptions outlining each committee’s authority will be added to a policy manual prior to being sent to the Warren County Commission for approval.
Helton said he did as requested.
“We were asked to establish what our responsibilities and duties are,” said Helton. “What I want to do is get a formal motion that this is what we are going to submit to the Legislative Committee for its approval and put it into legislation.”
Lee objected and a back and forth between him and Helton ensued.
“Steven, I know you weren’t around when this committee was put together, but you are way overstepping your bounds. The Safety Committee takes care of the budget for the jail and the sheriff’s department. The Safety Committee takes care of any budgetary reviews or whatever needs to be done when it comes to the budget. I know you want to make your committee super important, I guess, but you are way out of your bounds.”
Lee read a list of committee responsibilities approved by the Warren County Commission for Corrections Partnership when it was first established several years ago and it gave the committee no authority over the budget or any involvement in the budget process.
“Nowhere does it say that you have jurisdiction over any budget at all,” said Lee. “This is the original for when it was set up by the county court. You are way overstepping your boundaries here son. There’s no use in going any further on those two items.”
Helton stated, “It is of my opinion, and the committee may decide different, but it is my opinion that if we are going to be in charge of the jail and we’re going to meet with Mrs. Jackie (Rackley, jail administrator) and we’re going to talk about the issues of the jail and we are going to address those issues, then ultimately, we need to be over the budget of the jail, as well.”
“The Safety Committee takes care of this; they always have,” said Lee. “I don’t understand why all of a sudden that you are going to take over a budget that is already being taken care of by another committee. It has been for years and years and years.”
Helton replied, “It’s my understanding that this is what the Legislative Committee is all about, trying to streamline and cleanup things that certain committees have done. That’s why we are setting down our responsibilities.”
“I’ve submitted my papers of the Safety Committee’s responsibilities and description and it says the same thing yours does,” said Lee. “Why are two committees butting heads?”
Helton replied, “Ultimately, the Legislative Committee will have to figure that out.”
“I hope the whole d… court does,” said Lee.
Also in attendance was Safety Committee member Commissioner Christy Ross.
“So, are you proposing that the sheriff come propose his budget to you and then, he has to come and propose it to the Safety Committee and then, it goes to Budget and Finance,” said Ross. “Is that what I’m hearing? The responsibility of the jail is under the Safety Committee.”
Helton replied, “Ultimately, Ms. Ross, what I would like to see is, I would like to see the jail taken away from Safety and fall under County Corrections.”
The county’s Legislative Committee meets Monday, Jan. 13 at 6 p.m. in Warren County Administrative Building’s conference room.