San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

October 28th, 2009
County to miss state jail deadline

The Hays County Jail. Photo by Sean Batura.

By SEAN BATURA
News Reporter

Hays County Commissioners Court won’t execute a contract for repairs to the county jail’s roof until Nov. 3 at the earliest, thereby missing by three days the 30-day deadline set by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS) on Oct. 1.

As a result, the TCJS may issue a remedial order to Hays County, which would result in all or part of its jail being shut down, in which event even more prisoners would have to be shipped elsewhere at county expense. The county spent $264,900 during its last budget cycle to house inmates in Guadalupe County.

TCJS Executive Director Adan Muñoz said Tuesday that the commissioners’ failure to meet the deadline will be “a factor” he will consider before making his final recommendations to the nine-member TCJS commission at a meeting next week. More important, said Muñoz, is the court’s failure to take corrective action after a TCJS inspection conducted in April at the invitation of Sheriff Tommy Ratliff resulted in a visit from Muñoz. From that visit, TCJS issued the first of two noncompliance letters to Ratliff and Hays County Judge Liz Sumter (D-Wimberley).

In addition to another visit from Muñoz, his agency sent Sumter and Ratliff a second noncompliance notice after TCJS Inspector Fredrick St. Amant arrived unannounced in September and found seven areas of noncompliance with state law, one of the most serious of which is the jail’s deteriorating roof.

“Since April, Hays County has not taken any constructive, positive action that we can see, and the commission needs to be informed as to (the jail’s) status, including the failed September inspection,” Muñoz said.

The commissioners court would have voted on the roofing contract Tuesday, but a procedural fluke originating in the Hays County Clerk’s Office resulted in the agenda not being posted at the county courthouse as required by Title 5 of the Texas Government Code. Title 5 mandates that notice of governmental body meetings be posted 72 hours in advance. Because the agenda was not duly posted, the commissioners had to call off Tuesday’s meeting.

Texas law requires commissioners to select the lowest responsible bidders for construction work. Regarding the county’s solicitation of roofing bids for the jail, the low bidder was Austin-based Texas Fifth Wall Roofing, which proposed a project cost of $424,000.

Muñoz sent Ratliff and Sumter a letter of invitation to appear before the TCJS on Nov. 5. The 9 a.m. meeting, open to the public, will be in room 120 of the John H. Reagan Building in Austin.

Said Sumter, “We will do a presentation, and, in fact, that presentation that we’ll be doing November 5 … we’re going to go ahead and do (at the commissioners court meeting) November 3, to see if there are any other questions or anything else that needs to be added.”

Hays County Commissioners voted unanimously last week to initiate an expenditure of $1,455,388 to address noncompliance issues identified by TCJS. Muñoz said most counties Hays’ position usually choose to build new jails. A new jail may cost the county $20-25 million.

Muñoz said overcrowding of the jail should be addressed, in addition to the noncompliance issues identified by the last TCJS inspection. The jail does not have enough beds to accommodate the number of people currently being incarcerated.

Sumter said two weeks ago that she supports a solution to the county’s jail woes that involves expanding the number of jail beds to 1,000, which, she said, is what a state study determined the county would need in 20 years. The jail now has 362 beds. Sumter said the county should not borrow money to increase the size of the jail by too little.

“If you are going to run out of space in 10 years and you still owe 10 years on that loan, that’s not a smart move,” Sumter said. “So, you want to make sure that the life of whatever you build lasts at least the length of the loan.”

Six counties with out-of-compliance jails are listed on next week’s TCJS meeting agenda, among other business.

“It’s hard for me to (predict what the TCJS will decide) because that’s up to my commission, but obviously Hays County has got some explaining to do,” Muñoz said Monday.

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0 thoughts on “County to miss state jail deadline

  1. “not properly posting” an Open Meeting notice? You’d think that County leadership could handle something as simple as compliance with the Open Meetings Act—it’s not that difficult to understand, and since it’s required of each meeting, this kind of mistake is just stupidity and poor leadership. Now taxpayers may be left footing a huge bill if the state closes the jail. For a County Judge who is so concerned about her private parking space you’d think she might want to take the time to worry about the jail situation and not wasting taxpayers money!

  2. “obviously Hays County has got some explaining to do,”
    Mr. Munoz, you are exactly right. This is ridiculous.

  3. Let’s just hope it wasn’t the Republican candidate for County Clerk who made the mistake in not properly posting the agenda. I understand Liz Gonazlez currently works in the county clerk’s office. They’ve been pretty closed mouth about who was responsible for the posting error.

    Can’t they hold an emergency meeting for this one item that doesn’t require the 72 hour notice? Certainly the health and welfare of the prisoners could be at stake.

  4. The idea that this issue languished for so long that a posting error could cause a problem is ridiculous in and of itself. If any bumbling politicians try to pin this on the unfortunate person who last touched the ball, they ought to be ashamed.

  5. Time really was an issue. It was a 30-day deadline in which commissioners court had to get bids through a formal process. Sure, they could have constructed a new jail years ago. And, in fact, that was talked about. But everyone back then got rowdy about the county spending our tax dollars….. so, we’re back to square one. Which is why we have state jail standards in the first place. If it were left up to the taxpayers in a community, it would always be the last place they would want to spend their money.

  6. It never should have come down to a 30-day deadline and if I somehow found myself in that position at my job, you’d better believe I would have personally followed up to ensure that the meeting notice was posted, early, and that all other details were tended to.

    If I had to go to the board of directors with a multi-million dollar screwup and I started pointing to the guy a rung or two below me, who forgot to send out an email at the tail-end of the debacle, I’d be out on my ass and rightly so.

  7. Ted is right. Leadership is owning it; the County leaders made multiple mistakes that will cost millions to fix — who is going to be a leader?

  8. Lila, the County has both Republicans and Democrats in leadership positions and at several levels. Political party blaming is a smokescreen and one of the reasons nothing gets done—everyone wants to blame “the other party”. Time to stop the crap, and as Ted says, hold people accountable—regardless of which “party”! Frankly I’d love to do away with both parties and have a new one called “Responsible & Accountable”! But unfortunately most voters are too caught up in this “party” b.s. and can’t see what’s really going on!!!

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