Oklahoma County Sheriff P.D. Taylor is giving the newly formed Jail Trust less than ten weeks to prepare to take over administration of the largest county jail in Oklahoma.
But the county’s youngest trust is still forming with funding approved by county commissioners just last week.
“We don’t want to do this wrong,” Jail Trust Chair Tricia Everest responded later in the day.
Taylor wants the newly-formed Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Authority, or Jail Trust, to take over operation of the jail at 12:01 a.m. January 1.
“They wanted the Trust. They got the Trust. Now, take the jail,” said Taylor in a surprise news conference Thursday morning. He seemed to be speaking as an outsider even though he is a trustee on the Jail Trust.
He cited the exit of experienced detention staff in recent weeks and the associated dangers for that “mass exodus” as his main reason for wanting to speed up the handoff.
“I have fought the fight trying to protect our employees” in trying to get assurances that their county benefits and retirement would not be affected in the transition, said Taylor.
He said a recent District Attorney’s opinion was that under the Jail Trust, employees of the Jail would no longer be Oklahoma County Employees.
In a letter to Jail Trust Chair Tricia Everest Wednesday afternoon (see at bottom), Taylor wrote, “it is my desire that the Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Authority (‘OCCJA’) commence operational authority of the Oklahoma County Detention Center on the 1st day of January, 2020 at 12:01 AM.”
Taylor cited uncertainty as one of the biggest problems he is facing as the Trust continues to take applications for a jail administrator and work on a budget.
From the letter:
Since the inception of the Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Authority (“OCCJA” or “Jail Trust” or “Trust”), we, through no fault of our own, have experienced a mass exodus of employees due to their confusion and outright distrust of the County Commissioners and the Trust when it comes to their future employment, benefits and the like.
Taylor cited “disastrously low staffing levels” and said they “simply cannot operate in a proper manner.”
He also said he intends to move his staff and operations out of the jail and into another county building once the handoff is complete.
However, when questioned closely Thursday in the news conference about how hard that January 1 deadline was, he said that the Sheriff’s staff wouldn’t just walk out of the jail on New Year’s Eve if the handoff was not ready.
There are serious questions about whether the trust will be ready by that time.
The Jail Trust was just formed in May. Funding wasn’t approved until October 17, a little over a week ago. And, the money has not even been transferred yet because accounts for the Trust have yet to be established.
“We don’t want to do this wrong,” said Everest in a phone interview with Free Press late Thursday.
She said that it is important to make sure the transition happens in the right way, not whether it gets done by a particular time.
“No one individual trustee member, nor anyone, is able to actually define when The trust would take over operations because that is certainly a process and we don’t want to do this wrong. And nor does the sheriff want to do it wrong,” said Everest.
Everest described the transition for the jail as a “huge deal for the county and for Oklahoma.”
“So I certainly recognize that Sheriff Taylor’s ready for this time to end but he also knows as a trustee that we are certainly going through the steps to get to that point.”
She said that the City of Oklahoma City, the various Chambers of Commerce and the County Commissioners are all interested and ready to contribute to solutions for the Jail.
Everest said she thought Taylor’s letter Wednesday was an item he wanted to discuss in the next Jail Trust meeting Monday. But, she didn’t “recognize the gravity of what he was saying” that led to the news conference the next morning where he announced a time certain for the handoff.
Updated 10-25-19, 12:35 p.m.Letter-from-Sheriff-to-Everest