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OKLAHOMA CITY (Free Press) — The Oklahoma County Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) met Monday morning with a full agenda of County business.

One item, however, was not a standard bit of business, but rather something District 3 Commissioner Kevin Calvey called “historic.”

At Monday’s meeting the Board approved and declared a special Bond election on June 28. The Bond, if passed, is intended to partially fund the building of a new jail facility for Oklahoma County.

The BoCC also approved moving the County Department of Social Services from their current offices in far Northeast Oklahoma City to the more centrally located Juvenile Justice Center.

The Board also celebrated the Jones High School Girls Basketball team for their second in-a-row Class 3A State Basketball Championship.

Marty Peercy reports Local government

Bond vote

As the County moves forward on plans to construct a new and larger jail facility to replace the much-maligned Oklahoma County Detention Center (Jail), funding sources for the $300 million (plus) project are uncertain.

As Free Press has reported previously, the recommended plans for the new facility will increase capacity to 1,800 detainees. Some plans suggest an expanded mental health program for the Jail, instead of investing that money in other mental health services as an alternative to incarceration.

Many critics have had much to say throughout the process of planning the new facility. The Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Advisory Council (CJAC), a para-governmental organization piloted by the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce, initiated the case study and exploratory effort that resulted in the plans accepted by the Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Authority (Jail Trust) and sent to the BoCC who approved the plans.

Financing the large and expensive project is intended to rely on several uncertain sources.

The chief source for funding being considered by the County is American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA) money. Recent federal guidelines, however, suggest that none of the $150 million may be used for the building of new jail facilities. If that bears out, the project will possibly be dead in the water at the start.

On Monday, the BoCC approved the other crucial funding scheme for the project.

Oklahoma County Jail
Oklahoma County Jail, 2019. (file, Brett Dickerson/Okla City Free Press)

Current bonds in Oklahoma County are set to expire soon. At the meeting of the Board, a new bond election to continue those bonds was approved.

The special election will be held on June 28, 2022. On that day, the voters of Oklahoma County will be able to vote on whether to continue an expensive bond for the building of a new facility with no hard and fast plans in place for all the money it will take to build it.

The vote was unanimous among the Board. Each Commissioner stated that they believed the existing Jail is not salvageable.

County bond counsel John Michael Williams said that the vote language will not include any plans for the size, location, capacity, shape, or any other specifications for the jail facility, a fact that causes concerns among people who don’t trust the process.

The Board also voted to empanel a Citizens Oversight Committee to make recommendations about Bond disbursement and plans for the facility.

At Monday’s meeting, several people were present to encourage the Board to abandon the plan.

Public comment

The first to offer comment was local restaurateur and political activist Sean Cummings.

Cummings told the Board that he was the proud father of five kids. As each child reached the age of 16, Cummings explained, he would give the new driver a “beater car,” which Cummings described as a well-used old car that’s seen some road miles.

Cummings said that his family would give the child a car that needed attention in order to teach the young person to take care of the car.

Sean Cummings speaks during the second jail listening session Oct. 7, 2021. (BRETT DICKERSON/Okla City Free Press)

“After a couple of years of not doing scheduled maintenance and changing the oil, I wouldn’t buy them a Maserati.”

Cummings compared that to the maligned Jail Trust who is in charge of operations of the Jail.

“None of them knew how to run a jail when they started, and they haven’t learned yet,” Cummings declared.

He asked why would the County hand over the keys to a newer, bigger, more expensive facility to a group that has a track record of not doing a good job.

Local activist Mark Faulk also took the podium to ask the Board to vote no on the bond election and to focus their efforts at lowering the numbers of people incarcerated.

Faulk noted the death rate at the Jail, which has more than doubled since the Jail Trust took over operations. At the current pace, the Jail could see as many as 24 deaths in 2022.

For reference, Riker’s Island in New York City has a daily population of approximately 10,000 people, as opposed to Oklahoma County Jail’s approximately 1,700. Last year 13 died in Oklahoma County, whereas only 16 died at Riker’s.

Faulk referenced the most recent death at the Jail, stating that the man who died was in jail for shoplifting and failure to appear for a traffic violation, neither of which carry a death sentence anywhere in the United States.

Social services

In a move that will likely make services more accessible for many, the BoCC voted on Monday to relocate the County’s Department of Social Services.

The current location of those offices is at 7401 NE 23rd Street, making travel times to services last very long. Additionally, the building where the department is currently located is mostly empty, and renovations for the building would cost far more than moving to a new location with build-out costs included.

The new offices will be on the third floor of the Juvenile Justice Center at 5905 N. Classen.

The build out is expected to be completed by June 1 so that the on-site pharmacy inspection can be completed prior to move-in.

The Department anticipates relocating on July 1.

Longhorns basketball

A moment of celebration was shared at Monday’s meeting, as a resolution was adopted commending the Jones High School Girls Basketball Team for their second State Championship in as many years.

The team and their coaches were at Monday’s meeting and were congratulated on their repeat.

One coach said that all the players would be returning next year for the season, raising hopes for a three-peat in 2023.

The BoCC will meet again on April 18 at 9:00 a.m.

Last Updated April 4, 2022, 2:24 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor