A power struggle between two committees in Warren County government may have come to an end Tuesday night.
Commissioner Steven Helton, chair of the county Corrections Partnership Committee, presented a measure before the full Warren County Commission that would rename the Corrections Partnership Committee to Criminal Justice Committee, make it a permanent committee, and bolster its role in county government by providing additional authority.
“This committee is not trying to take over anything,” said Helton. “Please keep in mind the number of times you see the word ‘assist’ in this or ‘help’ or ‘collaboration.’ This committee would be a collection point, a liaison, between the stakeholders – which is anybody in the criminal justice system – to this commission. The information we are getting from them will help us make educated decisions. Ultimately, my goal is to make this a committee that is proactive verses reactive.”
Commissioner Ron Lee, chair of the county Safety Committee, disagreed with that assessment several weeks ago when he accused Helton of “overstepping your boundaries” and attempting to make a temporary committee “super important” by assuming the budgetary responsibilities that were traditionally in the hands of the Safety Committee.
The changes also received criticism from Warren County Sheriff’s Department Major Jason Walker, who stated his belief that a Criminal Justice Committee is not needed and that most of the proposed responsibilities of that committee currently belong to Sheriff Tommy Myers and to the Criminal Justice Task Force.
Helton attempted to dispel negative feedback prior to the vote.
“I realize that we have a Criminal Justice Task Force. That and this Criminal Justice Committee are two separate entities,” said Helton. “Ultimately, we are all one election away from not being here. With that being said, the Criminal Justice Task Force is with County Executive (Jimmy) Haley’s administration. The next administration may not decide to go forward with it. I feel like it is important to put this in place.”
Haley offered his appreciation for Helton being a “champion of criminal justice reform” but spoke out against the change.
“Many of the things outlined in Mr. Helton’s duties and responsibilities to assist are actually giving oversight that is either the prerogative of the sheriff or of the criminal justice players, including judges,” said Haley.
Sheriff Myers offered his opinion at the request of Haley, “I’ve been with the sheriff’s department 30 years, as you know. We have always presented our issues to the Safety Committee. Since I was elected, I have been presenting our issues to two committees. The short answer to this is that I don’t think it’s needed at this time. It may be needed in the future, but I would say no at this point.”
Helton read a statement from Adult Recovery Court Program director C. Brad Price that supported creation of a Criminal Justice Committee.
Juvenile Court director Barry Dishman also lent his support.
“I was also able to speak with Mr. Dishman today,” said Helton. “His official quote is ‘we are welcome to anything that would aide in the people that we were sworn to serve.’”
A lengthy discussion ended with a vote of 13-9 by Warren County Legislative Body to reject the creation of a Criminal Justice Committee.
Voting against the new committee were Commissioners Michael Bell, Carlene Brown, David Dunlap, Deborah Evans, Steve Glenn, Richard Grissom, Robert Hennessee, Ron Lee, Gary Martin, Daniel Owens, Christy Ross, Tommy Savage and Cole Taylor.
Voting for the committee were Commissioners Carl E. Bouldin, Randy England, Helton, Lori Judkins, Gary Prater, Tyrone Sparkman, Joseph Stotts, Phillip Stout and Blaine Wilcher.
Commissioner Scott Rubley passed on the vote. Commissioner Carl D. Bouldin was absent.