by BRAD ROLLINS
Hays County officials have 30 days to submit a plan to state authorities for addressing “life and safety” deficiencies in its jail after failing a Texas Commission on Jail Standards inspection on April 23, the agency’s boss told commissioners this week.
“You’ve basically got a jail that is far outdated with all due respect and it’s a situation to be quite honest with you that is not going to get any better,” said Adan Munoz Jr., the commission’s executive director said. If the problems are not correct, he said, “It’s viable we could come back in here and start shutting down parts of your jail piece by piece.”
In an inspection requested by Sheriff Tommy Ratliff, a state inspector found a range of problems relating to the jail’s failing roof. Worst among these, Munoz said, is mold and mildew in walk-in coolers and freezers caused by the units’ rusting walls. Like many of the metal walls, showers and vents, food passes are rusted which creates the possibility of contamination when meals are served. Holes rusted through the walls could allow contraband to pass freely between cells. And foundation settling has caused cracks in floors and prevents doors from opening and closing properly.
Pct. 3 Commissioner Will Conley noted that the jail has passed the commission’s annual inspections for years, saying it reflects “the job your inspectors have done working with us.”
Munoz replied, “It probably did pass but that rust didn’t come in in the last year. We don’t want to be good ol’ boys and everybody be happy when we leave and as a result have problems that aren’t being addressed year to year. … I have to tell you the way it is or I’m not doing my job and we’re putting you in a liability situation.”
Also at Tuesday’s meeting, commissioners voted to authorize Phenolic Consulting to start the removal of phenolic, an foam insulation that has caused the jail’s metal roof decking to corrode. In 2007, Hays County accepted its part of a settlement in a class-action lawsuit against manufacturer Beazer East Inc. The county gets about $160,000 to remediate the problematic insulation and $180,000 toward installation of a new roof, said Mark Kennedy, the court’s attorney.
In a political context, maneuvering over the jail demonstrates the power of incumbency as County Judge Elizabeth Sumter prepares to fend off a challenge for the Democratic Party nomination from Pct. 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton. Sumter championed Ratliff’s appointment as sheriff when Sheriff Allen Bridges died in December; Barton was publicly less enthusiastic, or at least more circumspect, about Ratliff’s selection.
For years, uniformed deputies have shown up to commissioners court en masse as a less-than-subtle reproach to skeptics whenever issues of purse strings are in play. Now that lever is held by different hands which are clearly no less willing to use it — about a dozen sheriff’s office employees were on-hand for Munoz’s remarks to the court.Email | Print