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

October 11th, 2010
Letters to the editor: On the sheriff and the jail

(Editor’s note: We have three letters to the editor concerning the state of the Hays County Jail and a very closely related matter, the November election for Hays County sheriff. The letter writers are E.W. Kinney of Dripping Springs, Mary Clarkson of Dripping Springs and Dickey Haverda, the Hays County Sheriff’s Office jail operations captain.)

To the editor:

We need to think back to December 2008, when Tommy Ratliff was “appointed” sheriff. Let us remember that the jail had just passed inspection less than 60 days prior to Tommy’s appointment. So whatever happened in the four and one-half months between the time Tommy was appointed and the next inspection is all on Tommy. It’s all about managing the staff that is responsible for maintaining the jail. Tommy just dropped the ball, period. After the April inspection failed, Tommy had five months to get things in order before the next inspection. But when September rolled around, the jail failed inspection again! What was he doing for those five months? Not cleaning up his jail, that’s for sure!

Tommy has wanted to build a new jail since he set foot in the sheriff’s office. But thank goodness (Hays County Commissioners) Conley, Barton and Ingalsbe made sure the county did not go in debt another $30-50 million to build a new jail. We may need to build a new jail at some point, but not when we are in the recession of all recessions, and Tommy would know that if he had any fiscal common sense.

To further illustrate Tommy’s naiveté, a month or so back, Tommy came to the commissioners with a budget that was almost 40 percent over the 2009 level. When you are in charge of the department that accounts for nearly half the county budget, and you know there is a serious tax burden already, you do not come in and give the commissioners a “wish list” that would increase his budget just under 40 percent. Rather, you would have thought that Tommy would have done everything possible to trim his budget and try to come in as low as possible without severely impacting services. That’s what Allen Bridges did when he was sheriff.

We have an alternative in the upcoming election. Conservative Gary Cutler has a terrific resume that includes a ton of executive management experience in law enforcement. Go to cutlerforsheriff.com and check out how the very leaders of the Texas Rangers for whom Tommy Ratliff worked have endorsed Cutler. Kinda makes you wonder, huh?

E.W. Kinney
Dripping Springs

To the editor:

Mr. Kinney needs to have facts when firing out about the Hays County Jail. When the jail inspection on September 9-10, 2008 passed, maybe someone from the Commissioners Court should have taken time to be present for the debriefing from the TCJS (Texas Commission on Jail Standards) jail inspector. It was explained that if the roof, kitchen floor, and plumbing were not looked at, then the jail will most likely not pass the next yearly inspection.

Sheriff’s Bridges explanation to the inspector was “I have spoken with the commissioners court about the jail to no avail. They don’t want to hear it.” We are in need of a new jail, because this one has lived out its life. But, this was not Sheriff’s Ratliff’s idea. This was already a concern of Sheriff Montague and then with Sheriff Bridges. Before Sheriff Ratliff was appointed, the major, captain, and lieutenant over the jail visited several jails in Texas that were built by different architects. This was after several architects submitted drawings and designs for a larger jail. Meetings were scheduled with the architects as they presented their plans. What happened next, it became a non priority issue. A need for a multimillion dollar justice complex took priority.

I guess the cost of housing Hays County inmates in the Guadalupe County Jail was cheaper than considering a larger jail. By the way, the cost last budget year for housing these inmates was over a half million dollars. The April inspection came as a benchmark for when Sheriff Ratliff was appointed so not to get blamed for a jail that has been deteriorating prior to him taking over. You ask, what was the sheriff doing for five months, since the jail did not pass September 15-16, 2009, inspection. Any person with common sense would know that you can’t come up with several millions of dollars for the type of repairs that were needed (roof, walk-in cooler/freezer, kitchen floor). Especially when Sheriff Ratliff had no say so in the 2008-2009 budget. Remember he was appointed, after the budget was accepted. Once Commissioners saw reality funding was provided and the jail came back into compliance on June 4, 2010. And, by the way, it also passed a surprise inspection on Sept. 13-14, 2010.

You say not to build during a recession. What increases during recession? Crime, and so will inmate housing increases. But building costs are cheaper during a recession. The justice complex is going full force. You say thank goodness for (Hays County Commissioners) Conley, Barton and Ingalsbe. I almost bet Guadalupe County thanks everyone, also. So, Mr. Kinney, get your facts straight. Sheriff Ratliff is doing a great job. Sheriff Ratliff didn’t come in here and bring a whole new staff like your alternative conservative Mr. Cutler wants to do.

Dickey Haverda
Captain, Jail Operations, Hays County Sheriff’s Office

To the editor:

I noticed a couple of letters to the editor in a San Marcos paper last week — one from Mr. Kinney, criticizing Sheriff Ratliff for the issues with the Hays County jail, and one from one Mr. Haverda (one of the sheriff’s employees), who is apparently over the jail. I would like to make a couple of points that everyone should consider when choosing their Sheriff in Hays County:

No. 1 — The new jail that Mr. Haverda and Sheriff Ratliff were/are pushing for will cost between $51 million and $76 million. What Sheriff Ratliff’s opponent in the race for Hays County Sheriff said at several forums at which I was present is that he would favor a refurbishment of the jail, which would cost a little more than $33 million. These figures came straight from the Broadus & Associates estimate requested by the Hays County Commissioner’s Court.

No. 2 — Judge Sumter and Sheriff Ratliff have been on record in court favoring the “green field” option. That is, going to a completely new site, starting over and building a brand new jail. That’s where the estimate of $51 million to $76 million comes in …

No. 3 — A refurbishment of the existing jail structure would add 96 beds, which is the number of estimated new beds it would take to get us through the next five-10 years of growth. Included in the $33 million refurbishment would be a complete renovation of the existing structure with new “everything.” Also included would be a significant expansion of the law enforcement center. And best of all, this option would not require new property! So, no eminent domain issues, no additional expense for property purchase and no issues with a new neighborhood to deal with.

No. 4 — Just a little math lesson for Mr. Haverda: If it costs $678,000 per year to the Hays County taxpayers to house an average of 35 prisoners in the (Guadalupe) County jail, let’s see how many years we could do this if we spent $63.5 million (that’s the midpoint between the low and high range of the Broadus estimates) on a new jail. That would be just over 94 years. So, to say you would rather have a new jail than to have to board a few prisoners elsewhere makes absolutely no fiscal sense. But if we go with Cutler’s idea of doing the refurbishment, it solves all of Mr. Haverda’s issues and saves the taxpayers of Hays County about $30 million.

No. 5 — Contrary to what Mr. Haverda said about Mr. Cutler bringing in a “whole new staff” to the sheriff’s department, I was at the FOP (Fraternal Order of Police) debate when Mr. Cutler made it crystal clear that, and I quote, “all sheriff’s department’s employees’ jobs are secure.” I guess Cutler really meant everyone except the existing sheriff.

No. 6 — I went back and checked and I found that in the past 10 years prior to Sheriff Ratliff being appointed, the Hays County jail only failed a state inspection one time, and that was for overcrowding and had nothing to do with the structure itself and the maintenance of it. But I guess if a person wanted to build a new jail, a failed inspection or three might hasten the commissioner’s court to consider building a new jail. I sincerely hope that isn’t what was going on, but you never know …

No. 7 — The fact remains that no matter how Mr. Haverda wants to spin this, the jail has failed state inspections three times since Sheriff Ratliff took office and all for maintenance-related reasons: roof leaking, faulty plumbing, mildew, dirty floors, etc. That tells me there was a lack of focus on day-to-day maintenance.

No. 8 — The officials I talked to at Hays County told me that Sheriff Bridges was well aware of the need for work on the jail and had discussed the possibility of a new or refurbished jail at some point. But understanding the budget crunch, he did what any good administrator does, and what we all do in our own lives when faced with similar issues, and that was to try and do a good job of maintaining the jail and getting as much mileage out of it as possible, until the climate was more receptive to spending the money to refurbish the existing facility. But that isn’t the issue. The issue that got the jail shut down three times in a year and a half  was the day to day maintenance of the jail — the same jail that passed inspection just a couple of months before Sheriff Ratliff was appointed. So, Mr. Haverda’s argument that Sheriff Ratliff had no say in the 2008/2009 budget has nothing to do with anything we are talking about here. Sheriff Bridges was fully aware that there was no money in the budget that year to make major repairs to the jail, and I am sure that is why he made the maintenance of the jail a top priority. So, this is strictly a lack of focus on normal maintenance of the jail on the part of Mr. Haverda and Sheriff Ratliff, it appears to me…

We can all agree that we have an old jail. But what we don’t agree on is what to do next. Sheriff Ratliff and Mr. Haverda apparently agree that “we need a new jail because this one has lived out its life,” to quote Mr. Haverda. My position is that Sheriff Ratliff has, indeed, not been diligent in maintaining the jail since he arrived on the scene, and, maybe he thought he could coerce the commissioner’s court to give him a new jail if the current jail failed a few inspections. But the court forced the sheriff to do his job and get the jail up to speed, which he ultimately did, without the millions of dollars Mr. Haverda said it would take to do so. How come Sheriff Ratliff could get the jail inspection passed in 2010, when it failed the three previous inspections? I’ll tell you why. The sheriff knew that he had to clean up the jail or he would have no chance to get elected. It is after all, election time!

Mary Clarkson
Dripping Springs

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5 thoughts on “Letters to the editor: On the sheriff and the jail

  1. Comment on:
    The sheriff knew that he had to clean up the jail or he would have no chance to get elected. It is after all, election time!
    Sheriff Ratliff is the only Sheriff that has showed any progress in attempting to bring the jail back to standards.

    No. 7 comment

    Instead of blaming the Sheriff and maintenance. How about blaming the Commissioners Court for not providing the funds to fix all these problems. Commissioner Will Conley was against the whole thing. Probably cause he knew he would not get a pay raise.

    No. 6 comment

    If this Mary Clarkson did her homework on the past jail inspections. I don’t remember seeing her in the jail looking at the condition of it.

    No. 8 comment:
    Sadly to say Sheriff Bridges is gone. He did what he could with his time as Sheriff. Again the Commissioners Court is at fault. There is a new Sheriff now who is trying to do his best for the jail and people in it. How would Mary Clarkson like it if we let the inmates out of jail and live right next door to her? I bet she would love the idea of a new bigger jail. She doesn’t know what she is talking about.

  2. Bottom line, The Commissioners ARE AT FAULT. They are the ones are in charge of the interior & exterior of the jail facility. There the ones that didn’t bother to visit the jail to see for the themselves how bad it’s getting. Just remodeling the kitchen & redoing the roof isn’t going to be enough. That just wasting money. They chose to build a justice center that wasn’t as bad as the jail. Instead, looking the other way to waste more Hays County Residence money. They ALL need to be replaced. They are all GREEDY, and looking out for themselves. Enough is enough.

  3. Come on guys… Don’t you see that Cutler’s disciples are trying to spin this. I’ve worked in the jail for years and the jail was brought to the attention of commissioners court over 5 years ago and NOW Ratliff is making them do their JOBS as it states in Local Government Code. It reads “THE COMMISSIONERS COURT SHALL PROVIDE SAFE AND SUITABLE JAILS FOR THE COUNTY.” Don’t be upset if RATLIFF won’t play the political games commissioners are use to. Cutler seems professional but I’m disappointed in someone who tries to drag disipline issues on his opponent that occured over 15 years ago. That’s just silly. Play fair fellas… It sure seems that Ratliff is being the adult in this race.

  4. Mary Clarkson,
    You sound like you can solve everything. With the sound of the mouth making no sense. Are you actually seeing the oversite of the jail on a daily basis? Are you having to deal with housing the inmates when jail is overcrowded? Are you making repairs in the jail with limited means? Do you actually know the actual cost of building a new jail vs a refurbished one? Are you working in the jail on a daily basis? We can all see who’s side your actually on. You make Sara Palin sound like genious. Just one more quick question Miss’s Know it ALL. Can you see the Hays County Jail from your house?

  5. Here’s the problem… We can not afford either plan.

    The Hays County Commissioners, in their infinite wisdom, elected to put in a $70-80 million “Taj Mahal justice center” that did not include a jail. Never mind all that empty space where JCPenney used to be. Politicians love big, pretty, new buildings.

    We’re going to be driving for no new bond debt on whatever we have to do on the jail situation. Until the County earns our trust again on how they spend bond money, we can’t allow any more.

    Yes, the jail needs some investment. But it will have to come out of the regular budget, and we’ll have to make decisions on which services to cut in order to pay for it. That’s how we do things in our own home budgets these days… and that’s how we need to approach County, City and ISD budgets.

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