The last thing the Sheriff wants is for the Cooke County Justice Center’s administration to be sent up the river.

The Cooke County Commissioners Court met Monday morning for a regular meeting.

In business, the Commissioners voted 3-2 to approve the hiring of two additional jailers in the next budget year and authorize the employment of new jailers effective Oct. 1, and discussed the possibility of outsourcing the jail’s administration and staff to a private company.

County Judge Bill Freeman reminded those present the Commissioners previously voted to put funding for the two additional jailers in a contingency fund, while providing funding for eight new jailers, to staff the Cooke County Justice Center — a $10 million courtroom and jail facility approved by the voters in a 2005 bond election.

The vote allows Sheriff Mike Compton to transfer the funds for the two additional jailers out of the contingency fund.

Gary Hollowell, Precinct 1 Commissioner, who voted against the measure along with Percent 3 Commissioner Al Smith, asked if Compton had a chance to review his budget in detail. After Compton replied that he had, Hollowell said employment costs for the Sheriff’s Department is around $2.4 million or 12.8 cents per $100 valuation.

Hollowell asked Compton if he has considered privatizing the jail’s operation by hiring an outside firm.

“I’d be dead set against it,” Compton said, adding that he believes an outside company — instead of county employees — would not do a quality job and would be paid significantly less.

Hollowell said an outside company running the jail could save the county $500,000 to $600,000 per year. Compton said by having an outside firm manage the jail other costs would be incurred. He did not list what those costs would be.

Hollowell said the county spent $1.8 million in salaries for 120 jail employees.

“What do you want, a deputy with a barking dog?” Compton replied.

Compton said the Justice Center was presented to the voters as a possible revenue-generating opportunity for the county; whereas previously Cooke County was paying for its inmates to be housed at the Dickens County jail and other facilities, the county could now house its own prisoners and charge other counties to house inmates in unused cells.

“We do not get one red cent if we turn it over,” Compton said.

He said an outside company would most likely select its own administrators and prefer that existing employees at the jail be reassigned. Compton said preserving the jobs of those who have worked at the jail for a long period of time would show respect.

“I’m looking strictly at the numbers ...” Hollowell said.

Compton said he objected to allowing an outside company to manage a facility “for which the citizens paid $10 million to build.”

Smith said, in general, “Making money and being in government do not go together.”

In an interview Monday afternoon, Compton did not give the names of any private companies which staff jails, but he said in most instances the county would have to pay for each prisoner. One company mentioned in previous stories on the Commissioners Court is CiviGenics. A representative from that company could not be reached by press time.

“If we give it to an outside corporation we have to pay to put the prisoners in the jail,” he said.

Compton said he has safety reasons for opposing privatization.

“As each person quits, they are replaced by a minimum wage employee,” Compton said. “That’s when you get contraband, a greater risk of prisoners breaking out and other community safety issues.”

He said the private company would reserve the right to place inmates in any jail it manages, without the approval of county officials.

Compton said Hollowell “has no experience whatsoever in jail administration.”

“Do the people of this county want violent offenders guarded by minimum wage people who have no training, just to save a little money over a few years, after they spent all that money to build that facility and to train it with qualified personnel?” Compton said.

Hollowell said in an interview Monday evening he wants to keep an open mind on the possibility of hiring an outside company to manage and staff the jail.

“I think they (companies such as CiviGenics) have people that are knowledgeable that may be better able to manage the facility,” he said. “I’m trying to look out for the best interests of the taxpayer’s dollar ... All I ask is that we entertain a presentation by them.”

Hollowell said he did not wish to “say anything negative about the Sheriff.”

“If they can indeed do it, then why wouldn’t we at least be willing to entertain a proposal to make an educated decision?” Hollowell said.

Hollowell said the sheriff has in many previous meetings requested more deputies and more money, and he said hiring an outside firm to staff the jail may be an alternative to meet his request.

Following the discussion on the new jailers, the Commissioners voted unanimously to accept a U.S. flag previously flown over the Capitol from U.S. Rep. Michael C. Burgess, R-Flower Mound.

The Commissioners then voted unanimously to table a decision to donate a surplus ambulance, deemed by a mechanic as unfit for use as a medical transport vehicle, to the Sheriff’s Department.

Compton said the ambulance could be used a special weapons and tactics (SWAT) van. Smith objected to approving the measure, wishing to review a mechanic’s opinion on the suitability of the ambulance for use in law enforcement operations.

Compton and Smith were mandated by the Commissioners to seek advice from a mechanic at Klement Ford in Muenster and present some numbers at the next Commissioners Court meeting.

In other business, the Commissioners again reviewed the numbers — phone numbers, to be precise.

The Commissioners heard a presentation from North Central Communications (NCC) regarding a new phone system for each county facility except the EMS substations.

The centralized phone system would link all of the buildings via Internet voice-over IP technology, and eliminate unused and additional phone numbers.

Installation and a maintenance agreement would cost $84,500.

Freeman said the County Attorney’s office and the District Attorney’s office both have their own phone systems, and under NCC’s proposal they would be linked to the county’s new system.

“Nothing happens in the county without controversy,” Freeman said. “Everyone would have to be in on it.”

Currently, Freeman said, the county’s main phone system is “antiquated” and is easily overloaded with a maximum of 22 calls at a time. The courthouse has no voice mail and no caller ID systems, and there is no phone tree to give callers after-hours options.

In other business, the Commissioners voted unanimously to accept a donation of 200 loads of gravel from Erlandson Construction to Precinct 1 to maintain about two miles of County Road 107 South.

Ken Arterbury, Dexter area resident, questioned the decision, noting Hollowell lived on the same road.

Hollowell, raising his voice, said the owner of Erlandson Construction also lives on the road, as do hundreds of other residents.

“I’m not going to take this just because it (the gravel) is not going where you want it to,” an angered Hollowell said.

In other business, the Commissioners voted unanimously to:

-- Accept a donation of an outside drop box for the Cooke County Library.

-- Enter into a cooperative purchasing agreement with Collin County, to share purchasing contracts.

-- Ratify a grant application with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for a solid waste grant submitted by the county judge (Freeman said though the county did not receive the grant money the Commissioners were asked to make it official).

-- Give permission for Woodbine Water Company at their expense, to bore underneath County Road 203 about half a mile north of County Road 217.

-- Set a speed limit of 40 mph for the entire length of County Road 428 per the property owner’s request.

-- Table advertising for sealed bids to sell an aging Ingram Tricycle Steel Wheel Packer (a piece of road maintenance equipment) from Precinct 1.

-- Purchase of a 1988 Galion-Dresser from Texas Department of Transportation state surplus for $2,000, for Precinct 1.

-- Approve bonds for the Cooke County Sheriff’s Office, including deputies Jimmy Burke, Mark Westbrook and Jerry Threadgill III.

-- Bury indigent county resident Hilda Collazo Erives.

The county took no action regarding a burn ban, and thus the ban is still lifted.

Precinct 4 Commissioner Virgil Hess said grass is to be planted around the Cooke County Courthouse at the end of this week or the beginning of next week, and the exterior renovation effort is coming to an end.

Reporter Andy Hogue may be contacted at andyhoguegdr[at]ntin.net

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