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OKLAHOMA CITY (Free Press) — The Board of Oklahoma County Commissioners (BoCC) met Tuesday in a regular meeting deciding, among a number of items, to change the specific ask of state government pandemic relief funds to comply with a recent court ruling.

In addition, the Commissioners approved a new Sheriff’s office booking/processing room in the Oklahoma County Courthouse.

And, yet another action was taken to pay for more work in the long journey of rebuilding and re-engineering Triple XXX Road running north and south along the eastern side of the county.

Employees honored

The BoCC recognized Letha Roberts who is retiring from Oklahoma County service after spending all 37 years working in the Treasurer’s office checking details of land sales and documents relating to property and taxation.

Oklahoma County Treasurer Butch Freeman congratulates Letha Roberts on 37 years of service to Oklahoma County, and all in the Treasurer’s office. (BRETT DICKERSON/Okla City Free Press)

The BoCC announced the Employee of the Year 2021 recipient, Markita Shaw-Epps, assistant planner for the Planning Commission.

Commissioners also named employees of the month for January. Receiving the recognition were:

  • Brett Bailey, administrative assistant for Court Services
  • Gary Williams, programmer and web developer for Information Technology

Jail funding

The Oklahoma County Commissioners voted in their regular meeting Tuesday to adjust their ask to the State of Oklahoma for pandemic relief funds to use on the new county jail. This time the request is to apply only to medical and mental health care of Department of Corrections detainees.

Previously, the idea had been to request the funding that would include construction, but a recent federal case decision clarified that federal pandemic relief funds sent to states cannot be used simply to build more jails and prisons.

Instead, their new request passed unanimously Tuesday, is to refine their request to money that would fund treatment of those that the Oklahoma County Detention Center or Jail is holding for an assortment of reasons for the Oklahoma Department of Corrections. (DOC)

Commissioners will be asking the state for $110 million to improve the plan for medical and behavioral health treatment in the new jail that is moving forward upon recommendation of the Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Authority or Jail Trust for a new jail on a new site.

Several activists spoke against the item and also against the whole idea of having medical and behavioral health facilities in a jail rather than stand-alone facilities in the community. They also criticized CJAC, the research group for the Jail Trust, for estimating what the population would be in the future and recommending to build to the percentage estimation of what the needs for incarceration services would be. They argued that jails always fill to capacity no matter the size.

Between the regular meeting and what they anticipated to be a very long executive session, Commissioner Brian Maughan answered news media questions about the new jail funding proposal.

“We’re in hopes that there’s a number of different conversations that can happen,” said Maughan. “Somebody just has to take the ball and run with it first to get the conversation started. And so just keep in mind that this may not be the final rendition. This may not be the final plan, but at least it’s a conversation starter.”

Maughan said that they will ask for the $110 million to be added to other sources of funding being proposed including the bond coming up for a vote in the spring, but that’s where the negotiations begin.

“I hope this is an exciting first day to a long conversation,” concluded Maughan. “But this is the first time I think in 20 years that we have really got a serious proposal on the table to maybe, actually, holistically fix the problem that we have suffered from the jail for many, many decades now.”

Free Press asked about the site selection for the new jail since talk about site selection has started to spread beyond the ten-minute travel time that was a firm recommendation from CJAC and then from the Jail Trust.

Maughan said that in their negotiations for land the county has to look for affordable options and those who have desirable land need an incentive to bargain for a fair price for the county.

We raised the issue of the potential for long travel times from a new jail built on a remote site creating expense and travel-time backlogs.

“There’s a trade-off, so we could pay less on property and then more on transportation, which of course will be ongoing,” said Maughan. “So that would definitely have to be considered and probably will be at the first and foremost of the considerations where ultimately we choose.”

Reducing jail occupancy

The BoCC also approved establishing a booking and processing area in room 157E in the Oklahoma County Courthouse, an idea proposed by Sheriff Tommie Johnson. The room is directly across the hall from the current Sheriff’s Security Office in the courthouse.

The purpose is to keep those who are being charged from spending as much time as at the present in transit and in dealing with a packed booking area of the jail.

Sheriff Tommie Johnson during a BoCC meeting Nov, 2021. (BRETT DICKERSON/Okla City Free Press)

The Sheriff’s office proposed the booking room to expedite the release of those who have been charged and just need to go through the process of booking and then establishing a bond for their release.

Johnson’s proposal said:

“Currently when an individual goes to court or when a bondsman or attorney walks an individual before a judge presently the individual has to be transported to the Oklahoma County Detention Center to be processed (fingerprints and photographed).”

Funds from the United States Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance FY 2019 National Criminal History Improvement Program (NCHIP) will be used to modify and equip the room so that booking, fingerprinting, and photos can be achieved without having to transport the individual to the jail’s booking area.

Johnson said that in some instances the process in the new room could be completed “in minutes.”

Triple XXX Road

In an effort that has stretched on for years, Commissioners, especially Brian Maughan think that they see the completion of massive construction efforts in sight.

Between the regular session and the executive session Free Press asked Maughan about the project that is mostly in his District 2 and how close they are getting to completing the project.

The Canadian River winds through eastern Oklahoma County reducing the number of north-south arteries for travel. That, in turn puts more wear and tear on Triple X Road and also makes dealing with the encroachment of the river even more important.

Maughan told us that their FEMA contracts had an August deadline for completion so that’s when they are planning to have the work complete.

A report in Tuesday’s meeting showed that a major area of encroachment of the river in one spot was being re-engineered after their first attempt seemed to not be enough.

County Engineer Stacey Trumbo approached the BoCC with a request for an additional $300,911.23 for cost overruns in the Triple XXX Streambank Stabilization project.

The next meeting of the Board of County Commissioners for Oklahoma County will be February 7, at 9:00 a.m. in room number 204, the BoCC meeting room.

Last Updated January 18, 2022, 5:01 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor