OKLAHOMA CITY (Free Press) — The Board of Oklahoma County Commissioners (Board, or BoCC) held an epic two-hour plus meeting Monday wherein several controversial items were discussed.
During an Executive Session that lasted over one hour, the Board discussed potentially dissolving the Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Authority (Jail Trust), as well as a potential claim against the State of Oklahoma and the Department of Juvenile Affairs for statutory payment of some costs of running the County’s Juvenile Justice Center.
In open session, the Board discussed a request by Sheriff Tommie Johnson III to enter a contract with a television production company who wishes to produce a television show about the Sheriff’s Office apprehending “wanted persons.”
A major step was taken in the years-long saga of the North Canadian Streambank Stabilization/Triple X Road project, and the County learned about another pending problem with the river further north in the County.
While the public is not privy to the conversations that happen during the Executive Sessions, the printed agenda does include the topics to be covered by the Board behind closed doors. Many members of the public have been aware for the past week that the BoCC had an item listed to consider the dissolution of the Jail Trust.
The Trust, which has operated the Jail since July 2020, has been under fire over the course of their tenure as operators of the Oklahoma County Detention Center (Jail) due to an outsized number of deaths at the jail and, in general, other poor and inhumane conditions.
After events on Saturday, March 27, that led to a Detention Officer being taken hostage by a detainee, and ultimately resulted in the killing of the detainee, the Trust has been under particular scrutiny.
The Trust held a special meeting on Thursday, April 1, to discuss the state of affairs at the Jail, and to discuss deaths in the jail, as well as to discuss CEO Greg Williams’s future with the organization.
At Monday’s BoCC meeting, the private discussion about dissolving the Jail Trus resulted in District 3 Commissioner Kevin Calvey moving to not dissolve the Trust. District 1 Commissioner Carrie Blumert wearily seconded that motion, and the three Commissioners voted unanimously to not end the Trust.
Calvey said that his motion did not preclude the Board from issuing a future statement about the state of the Trust.
During public comment earlier in the meeting, one resident, Sean Cummings, who said he was in favor of dissolution, suggested that the BoCC may simply not have the legal authority to dissolve the Trust, but that rather, the Trust may be responsible to dissolve itself by a majority vote of the Trustees.
For now, the Trust will continue under their indenture.
The Board took no action on the Executive Session item regarding the Juvenile Center. However, they did vote on several items related to the Center during the open session.
First, and perhaps most importantly, was to approve a contract On behalf of the Oklahoma County Juvenile Bureau and the State of Oklahoma-Office of Juvenile Affairs for funding and operation of the Juvenile Detention Center. That contract says that the State will pay a daily rate of $108.63 per bed for 50 beds at the Juvenile Center and up to an additional 28 beds utilized by other counties.
Another item to approve an agreement with a consulting firm for the Juvenile Center was deferred to the next regularly scheduled meeting.
The Board approved an agreement of services with GSB, Inc to provide architectural and engineering for the addition of a new, more sanitary lobby area in the Juvenile Justice Center. The services will cost no more than $51,500.
Sheriff Tommie Johnson, III brought an agenda item to Monday’s meeting that has raised some controversy among County residents.
Johnson asked the Board to approve an access agreement with Good Caper Content Production, a company that creates law-enforcement related television content. The agreement would allow Good Caper personnel to go on ride-alongs with Sheriff’s deputies as they “apprehend wanted persons.”
During public comment, many of the speakers were on hand to address this item in particular.
Several community members decried the idea as unethical and inhumane, saying that this kind of content would vilify people on the margins of our community.
Two speakers, Nicole McAfee and Chad Whitehead, specifically referred to filming people in one of the worst moments of their life, that being while they are arrested. McAfee went on to say that in a situation like that, the power dynamics are imbalanced so that “informed consent” can hardly be achieved. She said that people often feel unduly influenced to sign a waiver for a television appearance because they are at the mercy of law enforcement officers and they may fear reprisal if they don’t sign.
Whitehead suggested that if the Sheriff wanted more attention or engagement, he might simply hold a press conference where all members of the media are invited, or perhaps hold a town hall with his constituents.
Some activists said that if the contract was approved, they would organize community protests to try to shut down the program.
Johnson claimed that he understood and “heard” the concerns of the members of the public, but that his goal for the television show would be to increase public investment in co-creating safety alongside law enforcement.
The Sheriff neglected to say how filming the arrest of community members would accomplish that goal.
Calvey stated that one concern from the public was that such a program would open the County up to liability. Calvey, an attorney, said that the contract included an indemnity clause and that the production company had included an up-to-date insurance certificate.
District 2 Commissioner Brian Maughan said that this sort of program was not unprecedented in the County. In fact, according to Johnson, a previous agreement with the same company had been approved under another Sheriff.
Johnson went on to say that if approved, he would have final say on the edited version of the content that was created and he invited the Commissioners to participate in that eventual review with him.
Blumert said that she would vote no, even though she believed Johnson’s intentions were good and respectful, but that she has a problem with filming people while they’re being arrested. Johnson acknowledged her point respectfully and offered no argument.
The agreement then passed 2-1.
Triple X Road
Three items were handled on Monday to finally move forward on the North Canadian River Streambank Stabilization/Triple X Road project.
The movement of the river over the years has destroyed the road, some land, and one home. Maughan has been contending with this issue for years, and was celebratory of the progress.
First, the Board approved the recommendation of the lowest and best bid for Construction Management and Inspection. Smith, Roberts, and Baldischwiler is the firm that was chosen. They have done much work in the County over the last many years.
Later, the Board approved an item to accept a donation of a parcel of land from Timothy Dirk Smith by Quit Claim Deed. The parcel of land is effectively useless to Smith, and without this project being completed, he would stand to lose that parcel to the river anyway. The Board expressed gratitude for the assistance in the project.
Finally, the Board approved an Agreement for Services with Central Bridge Company. The approval of that contract means that work will finally be able to begin on the project to repair the badly damaged road and install a new bridge. Maughan said that he would gladly move the $2,630,013.20 item, calling it “Monumental.”
Maughan’s department has been saving road money for several years in order to fund this necessary work.
After the Triple X Road items, the Board was treated to a warning by County Engineer Stacey Trumbo about another area near the North Canadian.
Trumbo said that the river has moved quite a bit in the area near Wilshire and Indian Meridian. The river’s movement now creates a threat to a school in the area. Without streambank stabilization, the school and lots of land will eventually be destroyed.
The BoCC unanimously approved a supplemental Agreement for Services with Meshek Associate in the amount of $50,000 to head off that problem.
While the former Chair of the Board, Calvey, created strict rules for public comment during his tenure, today the new Chair, Maughan, took a more generous approach.
Maughan moved the public comment portion of the agenda to the beginning of the meeting, rather than holding it at the end after all votes had been cast. Additionally, he allowed people to far surpass their allotted, some would say restrictive, one minute of speaking time.
Maughan allowed a number of speakers to address multiple agenda items, mostly regarding the Jail Trust and the Sheriff’s proposed television content. He also allowed one person to speak, though they came in after the meeting was called to order, a move that Calvey would not have permitted under his chairmanship.
This signals a potential return to relative normalcy for public participation in County Government.
The BoCC will meet again in a special session on Wednesday, April 7, at 9:00 a.m.
Last Updated April 5, 2021, 2:34 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor