OKLAHOMA CITY (Free Press) — No action was taken Monday by the Oklahoma County Jail Trust to improve or in any way change operations of the Oklahoma County Detention Center (Jail), even in the aftermath of two deaths in one week at the facility.
In the course of the hour-long meeting, they heard from members of the public, amended a rule regarding Chairmanship of the Trust, and heard a report on conditions at the jail from CEO Greg Williams.
Trustee Francie Ekwerekwu was absent from Monday’s meeting, as was former Lt. Governor Todd Lamb, who has not attended a meeting of the Trust in recent months.
Marty Peercy reports Local government
Under the leadership of Chairman Jim Couch, the Trust has adjusted its rules for public comment, limiting the number of comments members of the public can make in front of the board. Residents are allowed three minutes of comment. Public comment is the first item on the meeting’s agenda, and so those who make comments have no insight into the discussions of the other items on the agenda.
Sean Cummings, a local restaurateur, and political activist was the first member of the public to address the Trust.
“It’s kind of pointless,” Cummings said, pointing out the absurdity of commenting on a meeting’s results before the meeting has truly begun.
Cummings went on to talk about last Thursday’s listening session about the future of the Jail.
While the event was hosted by the Criminal Justice Advisory Council — a large board of elected officials, law enforcement, social servants, and the very wealthy — Cummings was disappointed to not see any member of the Jail Trust present.
That sentiment was echoed by other members of the public in their comments.
Jess Eddy, activist and law student, also voiced concerns about the absence of trustees at that meeting.
Eddy said that it was inexcusable that Chairman Jim Couch and CEO Greg Williams were not present to hear from members of the community most impacted by the Jail.
At Monday’s meeting, the Trustees voted in favor of a resolution that amends the Trusts standards for terms for the Chair and Vice-Chair of the Trust.
When former Chairperson Tricia Everest stepped down from the Trust at the end of April, the Trust elected then Vice-Chair Jim Couch as the new Chair, and Trustee Senator Ben Brown took the Vice-Chair position.
As Everest’s term was not over, the amendment considered Monday was brought in order to allow Couch to serve a full two-year term as Chairman when the current term expires.
Upon inspection, however, the new language reads, “The Chair and Vice-Chair of the Authority shall each be elected every two years for two-year terms beginning at the first meeting of January 2022, and each may be elected to succeed themselves.”
One must wonder if this change in language will only be applied to the current terms of Couch and Brown, or if this, in fact, opens the door for them to be re-elected to those seats in perpetuity.
The resolution passed 7-0.
CEO Greg Williams brought his monthly report on operations and conditions at the Jail.
Both men experienced cardiac events around the time of their deaths, but the Medical Examiner has not issued an official cause of death as of yet.
Williams challenged a rumor that one of the men had been under the influence of narcotics at the time, stating simply that he had no information to indicate that it was the case.
COVID-19 cases have been increasing in the Jail, much like the rest of the country. Since July 15, 811 detainees have been tested with only 19 positive cases. In the last two weeks, 15 positive cases have been detected, making up approximately 8.9% of the population.
Currently, 17 members of Jail staff are out because of positive tests.
Staffing remains the most pressing issue for Williams. Ten new staff members started work at the facility today, bringing the staff to 334 employees. Eighteen employees have left in the last 30 days.
Williams said that all construction improvements from CARES money have been completed, including new plumbing and water heaters. Williams said that the jail has hot water now.
Williams also said that the old equipment and pipes were very leaky and that the problem has been ameliorated by the improvements. While previous water bills averaged around $53,000 per month, last month’s water bill was approximately $8,000.
The population at the Jail as of Monday morning was 1,661 with 161 awaiting transport to DOC custody.
Monday’s meeting ended with a strange touch, as a sales representative was invited by Sheriff Tommie Johnson, III to give a presentation about a detainee monitoring device.
The device, akin to a smartwatch or “fit bit,” is a wristband that can lock around a detainee’s limb and monitor the heartbeat and location of the detainee.
The device, in theory, would detect a drastic drop or rise in the heart rate of a detainee, alerting staff to immediately attend to the detainee, potentially saving their life.
The presentation was met with ridicule and heckling by members of the public in the gallery.
The Jail Trust will meet again In September.
Last Updated August 16, 2021, 5:37 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor