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Meeting turns testy
Jimmy Haley
Steven Helton.jpg
Steven Helton

Tensions rose during a county Corrections Partnership Committee meeting Tuesday between committee members and County Executive Jimmy Haley.

“My question to you, sir, is how does this committee find out and ask questions without it being a peeing match with you?” asked Commissioner Steven Helton to Haley. 

Haley replied, “It’s not a peeing match.”

The exchange came amid questions about how money is being spent from the $6.5 million borrowed for jail improvements, a review being conducted by Energy Systems Group, and the sheriff’s proposed budget for 2019-20.

“I’m asking simple questions about ESG and how that affects the sheriff and this facility and what we, according to that piece of paper, are supposed to be concerned with,” said Helton. “We’re trying to ask simple questions and you’re getting all defensive about it.”

Haley stated, “I am not getting defensive. You’re getting defensive.”

“Yes, you are,” said Commissioner Joseph Stotts. “We can’t ask you anything without you getting defensive every single meeting.”

Haley replied, “No, sir.” 

“Yes, sir,” said Stotts. “It’s a simple discussion. How are we supposed to know if we don’t ask questions?”

Haley stated, “We’re talking about helping the jail and helping the sheriff. I want to know what you’ve individually done to help the jail and the sheriff to move forward on any of these projects so far. Have you been in with discussions with ESG every day? Have you been onsite with them? Have you been out here at the jail going through these things that need to be done?”

“Who’s done what you just described?” asked Stotts.

Haley replied, “I have done it.” 

“That’s your job,” said Stotts. “Is it not?”

Haley replied, “It is. So, you’re questioning me on why I’ve done my job.”

“We’re just asking questions about it,” said Stotts. 

Haley replied, “Everybody in this room should have common ground. We shouldn’t be discussing dividing us or separating us in what we are united in. We should all be united in helping fix the jail. I have put a plan together to fix the jail.”

“And we’re asking questions about ESG and how it affects the jail,” said Helton of the company that is reviewing all county buildings to determine if energy savings can be achieved.

Haley stated, “And I have tried to answer every one of those. I don’t know what you want me to answer. I told you, the full assessment is not here yet. ESG has done an overview. They cannot answer every question you have because we do not have the full numbers back. I’ve told you that multiple times. Now you’re linking the energy project with the jail project.”

The back and forth came after committee members were informed the $6.5 million in bond money would not be used for expansion of the jail, a decision made by Haley in discussions with Sheriff Tommy Myers.  

“I hear we’re getting estimates on a build out,” said Helton. “How many additional beds are we talking about?”

Haley replied, “None. The build out we are talking about is storage space so we can free up the current storage spaces so they can use those for programs.”

“So, at this point in the game, are we taking bed space off the list?” asked Helton.

Haley replied, “There is no bed space in any of this and there hasn’t been. There was discussion, but the bed space that was discussed was going to take up every bit of the bond money and was not going to address any of the internal issues. So, the build out space was going to be anywhere from $5 million on up and there would be nothing left to address the locks, cameras or anything else. The sheriff and I got together and decided that the internal improvements are more important and more critical than the build out is. We have to look at the build out as a different phase or another phase of this.”

Helton voiced concerns the Sheriff’s Department might not get what it needs and asked Sheriff Myers if he was satisfied with not addressing the need for bed space. 

“We don’t have a choice as far as I can see,” said Myers. “Our building wasn’t right to begin with. To fix the internal things is going to use up most of the money that we have and there won’t be enough money left to build out for additional bed space and staffing for it.” 

The current facility has issues with its camera system, door locks, water heaters, HVAC units, roof, etc., said Myers. 

“We have to fix these internal things first,” said Myers. “We don’t have a choice.”

Haley accused the committee of overstepping its authority.

“As you recall, this is just a voluntary initiative actually through Tennessee TCI. If you want to look at, basically, the responsibilities that you created early in the meeting of this group. Nothing on there talks about micromanaging the sheriff’s budget.”

The email, said Haley, states the committee’s responsibilities are to “tour the jail, establish a process of education and awareness, accumulate data in order to help drive decision making, look for grant opportunities, develop a vision for the future, and discuss upon what improvements can be made with the jail and staff by phasing in additional projects.”

Carl D. Bouldin stated, “We’ve done that so we might as well go home. I motion we adjourn. We’re not going to accomplish anything tonight.”

His motion failed due to lack of a second and the meeting continued, eventually spiraling into the expression regarding a game in which participants compete to see who can urinate the highest, the furthest, or the most accurate. 

The meeting exceeded an hour.