In Monday’s meeting of the Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Authority (Jail Trust), the Trust reviewed a list of CARES Act expenditures they intend to make before December 31 and made, what was to some, a surprising decision to return the $20 million balance of CARES funds to the County to repurpose.
The Trust also discussed the possible creation of a Citizens Advisory Board to provide insight to the Trust.
The most significant matter of business at Tuesday’s meeting was to accept and approve a list of planned expenditures of CARES Act funds.
The Trustees were given a loosely itemized list of planned expenditures, mostly composed of things the Trust has already approved. Those items include the $9.6 million for renovations to plumbing and air-handling systems and the $1.5 million for improved video conferencing equipment to help stem the spread of COVID from the Jail to the Courthouse.
One less-defined item on the list is an earmarking of $350,000 for “Miscellaneous COVID expenditures, including CARES Act compliance consulting.”
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Many members of the public attending the meeting pointed out that perhaps the compliance consulting should have taken place before the budgeting of the nearly $15 million in the Trust’s proposed budget.
While some of the numbers may be vague at present, Trustee Jim Couch moved the item for approval, adding in his motion that the remainder of the approximately $34 million be returned to the County to be re-appropriated.
Trustee Francie Ekwerekwu seconded the motion after clarifying that Couch meant that the surplus CARES funds would be returned to the County.
The Trust voted to accept the budget and return the remaining nearly $20 million to the County for other COVID-related uses.
There were two abstentions in the vote, one from County Commissioner Kevin Calvey, who orchestrated the allocation of the CARES money to the Jail Tust, and the other from Sheriff P.D. Taylor’s representative on the Trust, Danny Honeycutt. Honeycutt explained that he was only abstaining because he had concerns about the budget. “There’s nothing I’d love more than to see that money returned to the County, I just can’t vote on this budget without more information.”
Trust Chair Tricia Everest proposed an agenda item to discuss forming a Citizens Advisory Board to assist and influence the Trust in its execution of Jail business.
Readers may remember that the Sheriff impaneled a Citizens Advisory Board nearly two years ago. Members of the public were indignant at the suggestion of yet another Advisory Board.
NAACP local chapter president Garland Pruitt spoke to the Trust asking how many task forces are needed before the public servants start fixing the system he says is broken.
Everest suggested at first that each member of the Trust and CEO Greg Williams could appoint a community member to the Advisory Board. The crowd in the room took great exception to that. Jess Eddy, local activist, said that the Trust didn’t need a Board of their friends who would agree with everything the Trustees said, but rather, “You need people who will hold you accountable.”
Ekwerekwu said that she believed that if they created this board, there should be an application process, much like the Sheriff used in creating his advisory board. Trustee Sue Ann Arnall agreed with that, as did Couch.
In the end the Trust took no action on the item.
Greg Williams, CEO of the Jail Trust, gave a brief update on the pandemic within the Jail walls. Williams said that they had not had a positive test in the Jail since October 21. He said more broadly that the numbers in the jail are trending positively.
Ekwerekwu asked who was being tested. Williams admitted that only people being transferred to court are currently being tested. Ekwerekwu rightly pointed out that that rendered the data uninformative.
During public comment Eddy and other members of the public claimed that people incarcerated at the Jail are charged $15 to receive a test for COVID, a claim Williams sharply denied.
In conversation with Free Press after the meeting, Williams said that the Jail has never, under his leadership, charged persons in the jail for COVID testing. In fact, his assistant contacted Jon Echols, co-owner of Turnkey Health (the health care provider in the Jail), and asked if Turnkey charges for COVID tests. Echols’s answer was a pointed, “Never.”
The Jail Trust will meet again on Monday, November 16.
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