County goes back to the drawing board on jail assessment
Hamblen County commissioners voted Thursday evening to reconfigure the plan for a jail needs assessment study.
The forward momentum of the jail needs assessment study hit a roadblock last week during the Jail Study Committee meeting when Commissioner Paul LeBel questioned the process.
LeBel suggested separating the companies that conduct the study from those that will consider the architectural design to prevent a conflict of interest.
LeBel said he was concerned that if the assessment is conducted by the same company that does the architectural design, that company could use the study to its financial advantage.
Essentially, he said that if the company is connected to an architecture firm, they are more likely to lean toward building a new jail.
Hamblen County Mayor Bill Brittain said at Thursday’s meeting that all three companies they had interviewed for the assessment said that if the county changed their criteria, they would prefer to be considered for the architecture design and not the needs assessment.
The commission then voted unanimously to separate the two.
“Where we are right now, is the three firms do not want to be considered for the needs assessment, they want to do the design work,” Brittain said.
The needs assessment study would be a comprehensive look into all of the workings of the jail, which has been compared to a dank, moldy dungeon.
However, the needs assessment is the less profitable of the two options and it will be harder to get a company to do the assessment without the option of getting the architectural design.
Brittain said that his concern with separating the study from the design is that a structural assessment needs to be done as part of the overall assessment.
“We need the structural integrity of the building assessed,” Brittain said. “We’ve have some cracks in the walls, we’ve had some weight issues over the last 10 to 15 years. We’ve had some settling in the annex. We need a structural engineer to look at that.”
Brittain told the commissioners that there are a few options on the table when it comes to taking the next step.
“One option is we could negotiate directly with a corrections specialist,” he said. “Second would be to reissue the RFQ (request for quotes) and target corrections consultants and third we could contact the National Institute of Corrections in Colorado and get some help from them.”
The approval of the proposal by Hamblen County Road Superintendent Barry Poole in the hopes of making roadways safer will now compel property owners to be financially responsible if their driveways wash out on to the roadways.
Washouts can, and have, caused wrecks due to drivers being forced into the opposite lane or sliding on debris.
“We’ve been lucky we haven’t had more occasions, but there are some driveways that are really steep and they wash out every time,” Poole said. “We’re going to try to work with those folks. It is not our desire to police anyone, but we do get a lot of complaints from drivers and neighbors and we need to get it taken care of. It’s not an easy solution.”
Property owners would not immediately receive a fine, according to the resolution.
The first step of action will be the County Highway Department cleaning up a washout that remains in the roadway for a period of 48-hours.
The department will then attempt to contact the property owner explaining the new policy and procedure.
Should the property owner ignore the new policy, and a second washout occurs—then the property owner may receive a fine from the highway department.
A citation could ensue for a court appearance where more fines may be imposed, if no corrective action is taken, and no appeal is filed.
“It’s your responsibility as a property owner to maintain your property and not endanger others,” Poole said. “Deep down I have no desire to do this but it needs to be approached because of the safety aspect.”
The commission also discussed the possibility of limited discretion for disadvantaged residents who may qualify.
In other news, the commission unanimously reappointed Gary Templin as Maintenance Supervisor. His position runs on one year terms.
They also awarded a brokerage contract to Voluntary Employee Benefits services for county employees.
-By Aletheia Davidson, Tribune Staff Writer