OKLAHOMA CITY (Free Press) — For the first time in months, the Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Authority (Jail Trust) met fully in person Monday and in a surprisingly civil and productive session.
The meeting was gavelled in by the newly elected Chair of the Trust, Jim Couch. The newly elected Vice-Chair, Senator Ben Brown, was seated next to Couch. All other Trustees were present save for District 3 County Commissioner Kevin Calvey, whose Chief Deputy Myles Davidson sat in as proxy, and Calvey’s often-absent appointee, former Lt. Governor Todd Lamb.
For the first time in the Trust’s history, the Trustees were presented with a “consent agenda.” Consent agendas (or consent dockets) are common in governmental meetings, and consist of any number of regularly appearing issues that require a vote, but little in the way of discussion or debate.
While the Trust has never had a consent agenda before, the new Chair has plenty of experience with them, having served for years as the City Manager of Oklahoma City and having served on many other Trusts and boards.
A change ushered in by the new leadership of the Trust is the implementation of more restrictive rules for public comment.
For the last year or longer, Jail Trust meetings have been often attended by local activists who wish to address issues such as jail conditions, the perceived mishandling of CARES funds by Commissioner Calvey, the presence of ICE in the Jail, no-bid contracts for work in the Jail, and other controversial issues. At times the presence of the activists has disrupted the meeting process.
In the past, the former Chair of the Trust changed rules governing public comment during meetings, and each time was met with the fury of members of the public who claimed the Trust was trying to stifle critique and free speech.
With each change in rules has come significant push-back, often involving the wholesale disruption of meetings by activists who would refuse to stand down from shouting at the Trustees on the horseshoe.
At Monday’s meeting, public comment was limited to three minutes per person, and only once per meeting. That time for public comment was held at the very beginning of the meeting, rather than offering an opportunity to speak on individual agenda items.
One activist, Michael Washington, addressed the crowd in the gallery while not deigning to look at the Trustees. Washington called the change in rules stupid and infantile, identifying the Trust as a farce. Washington said only an idiot would try to silence the voice of the People. Washington went on to add that he intends to file yet another lawsuit against the Trust for this perceived violation of constitutional rights.
State statute does not require the public trust to offer time for public comment, it should be noted.
Another frequent activist, Jess Eddy, also spoke during public comment at Monday’ meeting. Eddy said that he agrees with Mr. Washington to the extent that stifling public comment is a bad faith effort on the part of the Trust, and that he hoped real conversations could continue.
Eddy went on to say that he has recently been in communication with a person who was recently released after spending approximately one year in the Detention Center.
Eddy said this person detailed to him the ways in which treatment of the people detained in the Jail has changed since the Jail Trust took over nearly one year ago. Eddy said that CEO Greg Williams is owed a great deal of thanks for working to change the culture of the staff at the Jail.
The Jail Trust entertained their first ever consent agenda on Tuesday. The list of items to be considered with one vote was made up of approving monthly minutes, monthly claims, the monthly financial report, a contract for elevator repairs in the Jail, and a slate of 16 contracts and service agreements.
Trustee Francie Ekwerekwu asked if the elevator repair contract was only for elevator number 5 in the Jail. CEO Williams said that it is the only elevator not currently operating, so it is the only one being repaired. While other elevators are also old and need updating, those updates will happen as funds are available and as necessity requires.
One of the contract items up for approval was with Turn Key Health, the healthcare provider in the jail. Ekwerekwu pointed out that the service agreement includes a clause that requires Turn Key to offer emergency response services. Ekwerekwu asked if this is already in place, or if this was a new piece to the contract.
Williams explained that Turn Key already has an emergency response team. Recently, Turn Key has enhanced its emergency response by replacing four Certified Medical Assistant positions with four EMTs. While it is not yet certain that Turn Key is providing EMT service in the Jail around the clock yet, that is a goal of the Jail administration.
The total Turn Key medical services contract for the next fiscal year is $7.4 million.
With those few questions answered, the first consent agenda passed unanimously.
Turn Key Health contract for FY 2021-22Turn-Key-Health-new-contract-draft-FY2021-22
Greg Williams, CEO of the Jail Trust, gave his monthly report to the Trustees, saying that operations continue to improve.
In the past 30 days, the Jail has administered 629 rapid COVID tests with zero positive results.
Staffing continues to be a challenge, according to Williams, but recruitment and retention efforts have made a difference. Since implementing an across the board increase in pay for Detention Center staff, retention has improved. The recent recruitment/referral bonus program has had great success, Williams said. In the last month they have hired 40 new staff members, bringing the total number of employees to 337.
Monday’s morning population count at the jail was 1543 with 163 detainees scheduled for transport to Department of Corrections custody.
The Detention Center Action Committee, a Jail Trust subcommittee, will meet on July 6 at 1:00 p.m. The Jail Trust will meet again on July 19 at 1:00 p.m.
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Last Updated June 21, 2021, 6:54 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor