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

November 5th, 2009
Sanction raises political tension over Hays jail

by BRAD ROLLINS
Managing Editor

The Texas Commission on Jail Standards this morning ordered Hays County officials to close the jail’s kitchen by Nov. 20, citing continued unsanitary conditions.

During a surprise visit to the jail on Tuesday, the second in less than a month, state inspectors said they found mold and mildew in a walk-in cooler and food preparation areas. At the Thursday morning hearing in Austin, County Judge Elizabeth Sumter, flanked by Commissioners Will Conley, Debbie Gonzales Ingalsbe and Karen Ford, said local officials are moving aggressively to resolve problems that have caused the state agency to threaten a total shutdown of the 362-bed facility. TCJS Executive Director Adan Muñoz said the efforts aren’t good enough.

“It is up to you to decide how quickly you want to fix your problems at the jail and come into compliance,” said Muñoz, who initially recommended that the kitchen be closed today before the commission agreed to Sheriff Tommy Ratliff’s request for two weeks.

The public dressing down set off a series of sharp exchanges between Ratliff (pictured) and members of the commissioners court, who have authorized $1.4 million for a new roof, heating and ventilation system and other repairs and chaffed at Muñoz’s contention that “you have not made any definitive progress.”

Speaking to reporters outside the Jail Standards meeting, Ratliff laid the problems at the feet of the commissioners court, of whom he said, “I think we got their attention” now.

He went out to recount how he notified the court of problems at the jail in March, three months after taking office, and a month before the first of a series of TCJS inspections that led to the kitchen shutdown order today.

“I really felt like these things were going to be done back then … They were a little slow to get started and take these issues seriously. I don’t think they realized the seriousness of the situation. We felt like the ball was pretty much in their court,” Ratliff said.

Ratliff has repeatedly rankled commissioners by not showing up for court sessions and workshops related to the jail like a vote on Tuesday to award a $424,000 contract to Austin-based Fifth Wall Roofing for the roof replacement.

The court put the roof replacement out for bid this summer after the first failed inspection in April but before the second in October. But part of the money they earmarked for the repair, about $245,000, was won through a class-action lawsuit against the old roof’s manufacturer. Red tape related to receiving that money prevented the court from awarding a contract for the job until now, Sumter said.

Conley, who serves on a committee tasked with bringing the jail into compliance, said he and other commissioners were blindsided by the most recent inspection this week. He said he did not know about it “until we were standing at the podium” at today’s hearing in the Reagan state office building. Asked by a reporter outside the meeting, Sumter conceded she knew of the inspection yesterday but did not inform her colleagues on the court.

Ratliff bears responsibility for not cleaning up mold, mildew, rust and other superficial problems that could have been resolved while waiting for major repairs to start, Conley said.

“We know the issues with the roof are directly linked to the overall issues that we’re having at the jail in many ways. It does not mean that under the proper maintenance program that we can’t have a sanitary kitchen on a day-to-day basis. It does not mean that standing water is acceptable to the commissioners court or the Jail Standards commission and nor should it be acceptable to the sheriff,” Conley said. “I am very disappointed in the sheriff and his failure to maintain the jail and pass inspections. I strongly advise him to come up with a program to keep the place clean and sanitary and perform basic maintenance.”

Meanwhile, Ratliff and Sumter used the occasion and resulting press coverage to argue for construction of a new jail which won’t allay their critics’ suspicions that the current jail woe are being exacerbated to justify a new facility. Sumter said the county “already owns property” where a jail could be built. Asked to which property she referred, she said “just pieces of property throughout the county. A jail doesn’t have to be built in the county seat.”

Asked by a Jail Standards commissioner if two weeks is enough time to make stop-gap arrangements such as establishing a mobile kitchen on the jail grounds, Ratliff said, “We’re going to have to live with it. We’re sure going to make it work.”

Sumter said she would call an emergency session of the commissioners court to expend money to pay for a mobile kitchen, which Ratliff estimated would cost about $10,000 a month. No one had gotten sick at the jail due to food quality, Ratliff said.

Email Email | Print Print

--

14 thoughts on “Sanction raises political tension over Hays jail

  1. Let me get this straight. No one has gotten sick at the jail but the kitchen is still an emergency. But it’s not that big of an emergency because it can stay open until November 20. This smells like a political play by Ratliff to get his new jail using an old cop buddy in Munoz to do his bidding. I bet it all comes out in the wash and Ratliff will have to answer for playing games. I guess Texas Rangers are taught to go it alone but he’s showing he can’t play well with others.

  2. As I recall, this jail was built brand new, from scratch, in the early ’80’s. Shouldn’t an institutional building be expected to last longer than 20-30 years? Did we take the lowest bid and build it too cheaply? Who built it? Is that company still in business?

    Let’s make sure it doesn’t happen again……

  3. My understanding — and im a muni govt hack not a county one — is that the roof was replaced in 2001 using a form of foam insulation called phenolic that was marketted for use in flat roofs on commercial buildings but turned out to corrode metal rapidly when it comes in contact with water. Many, many governments and companies sued Beazer East Inc including HaysCo which won part of a class-action settlement. Most of the problems, at least that have been talked about in the press, can easily be traced back to the roof problems. Other than that, it’s a solid building and can be retrofitted and expanded a fraction of the cost of a new jail (not to mention the political nightmare of telling people you’re building a jail in their neighborhood).

  4. Slime in the ice machine has nothing to do with the roof, it is the fault of whoever is cleaning the kitchen.

  5. So let me get this straight; the commissioners could not call an emergency meeting to approve the roof bid (after they forgot to post the original meeting), but now that the kitchen has been shut down, they can. This court is the laughing stock of Central Texas. We deserve better than this. The court has turned into the Jerry Springer show and nobody is stopping it. Maybe people will wake up when we are spending $250,000+ per month to house our inmates in other counties.

  6. Why are Judge Sumter and Sheriff Ratliff so determined to move our jail? What is Liz refering to when she speaks about County prorpety? The Civic Center! That would be nice. Welcome to San Marcos and our new Convention Center. To the south we have the outlet malls and to the north is our jail. What would we do about the kids who use the Civic Center? I wish these two would quit playing politics and quit trying to pressure the others on the court to build a new jail in a differnt location. The majority of the Court already said no. Give it a rest and focus on all the other issues going on in the county. I think the County is spening enough money already!

  7. Well, I guess the Commissioners now wonder if they should have (inexplicably) handed the office off to Tommy Ratiliff on a silver platter without knowing anything about him other than that he had retired as a Texas Ranger.

    We need someone who has business management skills and diverse LEO skills. Preferably someone who feels a little loyalty to the county, rather than state government.

  8. if the commissioners gave the office to the sheriff on a silver platter they also gave him the jail in the condition it was. he called for the inspection right after he started as the sheriff and the jail failed the inspection then. it appears that Ratliff is the one trying to do something about it. it is not fair to blame him for something that he was given to fix. he is trying to fix it. do you really think it went to that condition 3 months after he took office. to this point the sheriff has not seemed like a politician he seems like someone that is trying to fix a problem that he was asked to fix. give the man time to do his job.

  9. 1.”No one has gotten sick at the jail but the kitchen is still an emergency. But it’s not that big of an emergency because it can stay open until November 20.”
     Think for one moment, when a restaurant does not pass health inspection for serious reasons, does the health dept. let them stay open until “someone gets sick”? NO

    2.”This smells like a political play by Ratliff”
     You are really digging deep to try and find something to stick the sheriff with in a failed attempt to back your obvious “buddy” in his campaign…if you are making a stink out of something so black and white; it leads me to believe you’re lacking cards in your hand to bring Ratliff down. And if you do, let’s hope they top the skeletons in Cutler’s closet.

    3.”Shouldn’t an institutional building be expected to last longer than 20-30 years? Did we take the lowest bid and build it too cheaply?”
     Let me know if you can name a institutional bldg. that has not needed major repairs/replacements/remodels after 20-30 yrs. & better yet what Commissioner’s Court that doesn’t look for the cheapest route instead of the most sound. Although at least your point is looking to the source not the hands of the last person the problem was placed in.

    4.”Other than that, it’s a solid building and can be retrofitted and expanded a fraction of the cost of a new jail (not to mention the political nightmare of telling people you’re building a jail in their neighborhood).”
     First off, you obviously do not know the extent of the existing and progressing problems in many aspects of the jail, not just in the roof. Second, the construction of a new jail would not be in a neighborhood but on County property outside San Marcos…not to mention have you taken a look at the surroundings of the jail today? Within walking distance you can find anything from college apts. to local businesses to homes. Also one of the problems with remodeling the old jail, although less expensive, there would be no room for additions because the lot size is not increasing. If you look at the growth of inmates and increase in crime just in the last decade, I would say in another 10 – 15 years we would have to build another one anyway because we would once again be out of space, and therefore in the long run would cost much more.

    5.”This court is the laughing stock of Central Texas. We deserve better than this. The court has turned into the Jerry Springer show and nobody is stopping it. Maybe people will wake up when we are spending $250,000+ per month to house our inmates in other counties.”
     I could not have worded it better. Sadly, a majority of tax payers have no realization that their money is being wasted on putting OUR inmates in other jails or that the stinginess of the court is racking up debt we will soon never be able to pay off. Which brings up another good point of building a new and bigger jail which is that we could in turn house “out of town” inmates and make up for some of the money we’ve burned.

    6.”The Civic Center! That would be nice. Welcome to San Marcos and our new Convention Center. To the south we have the outlet malls and to the north is our jail. What would we do about the kids who use the Civic Center?”
     Really, really… did you honestly think about your comment? The Civic Center is not the only county owned property. Truthfully, law enforcement facilities in many communities and cities across Texas are praised for their size, cleanliness, and effectiveness, plus they are architecturally based to compliment and accent in the community not frowned upon because of their intent and use.

    7.“Well, I guess the Commissioners now wonder if they should have (inexplicably) handed the office off to Tommy Ratliff on a silver platter without knowing anything about him other than that he had retired as a Texas Ranger. We need someone who has business management skills and diverse LEO skills. Preferably someone who feels a little loyalty to the county, rather than state government.”
     This whole comment is completely absurd. They handed him this office…and he just fell into step, sat behind the desk watching TV, and has not had to do any work. That’s right, he hasn’t been busting butt to get things done that needed to be done, while trying to fill big shoes, while having to take on a role greatly criticized by intellectuals such as yourself, while trying to be the good guy and not stump to the level of greed and money. I honestly believe it scares Cutler supporters to death that his competition (Ratliff) is actually acting for the good of the people and not trying to appeal to those who use money and clout to get their needs met. What we need is a honest man with a good head on his shoulders that may not so much have the “bells and whistles” of enforcement achievement but is personable because when it comes down to majority of our community… we don’t care what you did, but what you will do, and whether we can trust what you have to say. When put this simply, its character not clout that will win this battle.

    8.“Do you really think it went to that condition 3 months after he took office. to this point the sheriff has not seemed like a politician he seems like someone that is trying to fix a problem that he was asked to fix. give the man time to do his job.”
     Finally someone makes an honest remark. Problems like the ones the jail suffers from do not happen overnight, and Ratliff can only do so much to fix the surface problems, which is not an end all solution. That is where the court needs to step up and realize that he is doing the best he can with the funding he’s been given, and ITS NOT ENOUGH!!

    ——————————————————————–
    All in all, I think to solve all these jails problems, we should let “Money Bags” be sheriff and he can pay for all these solutions himself. Obviously he already has the politician in him because he has perfected an art for pointing fingers in the wrong directions and taking one piece of information and twisting it to sound good for his argument. JOB WELL DONE! If I had deep pockets and no values, you would definitely get my vote!

  10. according to reports Sheriff Ratliff and Judge Sumter pushed hard to get the jail relocated and to build a new building to other Commissioners. When the Court turned them down for relocation and denied their wishes to build a jail instead of a government center they went to plan b. They then called the state comission into our jail. The jail had never looked so bad. Before this time Hays County had never failed an inspection. They wanted to fail hopeing it would put pressure on the Court to change direction. They failed and the Court has moved forward with the government center and now has to deal with the problems created by Ratliff and Sumter.
    More wasted tax dollars simply for politics.

  11. Jackson – exactly what “reports” are you referring to? The records would be the minutes of Commissioners Court. Decisions made outside of this venue would be a violation of the open meetings act. You haven’t been listening to O’dell, have you? The Government Center has been discussed for some years now. I believe what they were discussing – in Commissioners Court and in front of the public – was the possibility of combining a new jail WITH the Government Center.

    Stop spreading rumors based on false and misleading information. Do your homework. There are too many people out there who actually attend Commissioners Court. And then, of course, there are the commissioners court minutes and the videos of court that will support the truth.

  12. Ms. Knight,

    Sumter has stated many times in Court she would like to locate the jail at the Civic Center. The proposal she made called the for the county to just build courtrooms and a jail, not the government center which will house many other departments of the county. The Court made the right decesion. Sumter and Ratliff need to just live with it. As for O’Dell he is a small little man who picks on honest officals to push his cause. I try to just pick on oficals like Sumter and Ratliff who can’t do there job and are an embrassment to the county and the rest of the Court members.

  13. The people need to vote on new Commissioners. They can give themselves pay raises and forget about the County employees. Especially Will Conley. What is that idiot doing as a County Commissioner? Doesn’t he make enough money? He knew of the problems long before all this. How can these Commissioners make a decision on the jail when they only walked through it in 30 minutes. They don’t have to work or live in the jail. I totally agree with Hays Resident who said “This court is the laughing stock of Central Texas.”
    Sheriff Ratliff has been trying hard to get a new jail or get the old jail in better condition.
    All you people who are against a new jail or repairs on the current jail should try working in the jail. Instead of commenting on something you know nothing about.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

:)