Jail staff increase gets OK
Morgan measure to allow opening of 4th pod; sheriff to seek federal inmates
By Sheryl Marsh
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The Morgan County Commission approved increasing Sheriff Greg Bartlett's jail staff to 102 at a cost of $285,826 to taxpayers so he can open the jail's fourth pod.
Also, the commission majority urged the sheriff to start housing federal inmates. That would mean more money. The sheriff said he would take the surplus and put it back into the jail budget.
Bartlett and his attorney, Wesley Lavender, were at Thursday's commission meeting.
Lavender is also a part-time assistant in District Attorney Bob Burrell's office.
Bartlett told the commission that the jail with three pods open is overcrowded and that goes against a federal judge's order. He said as of Tuesday the jail had 255 inmates.
The jail's capacity is 411 inmates, but one pod is for females only.
The closed pod would house 100 male inmates. Male pods C and D house 101 and 120 respectively with female pod B holding up to 90, Bartlett said later in the day.
He said male pods C and D are not to exceed a combined population of 221. Figures supplied by his office show the male inmate population went over 221 Jan. 11 and has exceeded that number four days since. The female maximum since Jan. 1 is 31.
On days when inmates exceeded the pods' capacity, the males were housed in holding cells in the booking room.
Bartlett told commissioners he has talked with U.S. Marshals Service about letting him house inmates and the marshals are willing.
District 1 Commissioner Jeff Clark appeared anxious for the sheriff to start housing federal inmates. Clark said that would help pay for the $23 million jail.
Bartlett said federal authorities were "chomping at the bits" about him housing inmates, and he hopes they're still interested.
Chairman John Glasscock reminded the sheriff that the commission had already adopted a resolution for him to negotiate with the federal authorities for housing inmates.
Bartlett told The Daily that he believes federal prisoners will pay for the extra jailers and could generate additional revenue. He said opening a fourth pod would allow him to better segregate prisoners.
After the work session, Glasscock said, there has been no contract established, and the commission and Bartlett would decide on details about the negotiation at a meeting next week.
All of that discussion took place at the work session, which District 4 Commissioner Stacy George did not attend. When the issue came up at the meeting that followed the work session, George questioned it.
He asked the commission to table the issue until he can verify that the jail is overcrowded.
George said he thought it was strange that the sheriff is asking for more staff and that the issue about housing federal inmates came up at the same time.
The turnover rate among jailers has been high, according to a personnel employee. She said that from May 29 to date 37 employees have left the jail. Some were fired and others resigned. The employee said her records show that the average number of jailers has been about 85.
Before Thursday, full staff was 88.
The commission ignored George's request to table the matter and authorized the sheriff to hire 14 jailers.
Most sheriffs in the state get to keep any money left after feeding inmates. The money comes from the state Department of Corrections.
For a 24-month period, Bartlett kept about $104,000 he had leftover after feeding inmates in addition to his salary, which was $58,000 at the time.
He receives $1.75 per inmate per day and federal authorities could pay him as much as $3 per day.
Etowah County officials said the state law that lets sheriffs keep leftover food money would also apply to feeding federal inmates. An official there said the County Commission has a contract with the federal government to house inmates, and the Etowah sheriff received almost $500,000 from federal inmates alone.
Also, during the meeting, George raised the issue of the sheriff's pistol permit fund. He said he understood that the sheriff got two new vehicles and did not ask for bids. Glasscock interrupted George as he tried to ask County Attorney Bill Shinn to get an attorney general's opinion about whether the sheriff could purchase out of the fund without bidding.
Glasscock said the sheriff doesn't "have to bid anything."
Shinn intervened and asked George to say what he wanted him to get an opinion on. George told him and Shinn said he would look into it.
Since taking office Bartlett successfully got the legislative delegation to increase the cost for pistol permits. Permits are good for one year and cost $20.
County Administrator Syble Atkins said the sheriff does not bid vehicles that he pays for out of the pistol permit fund.
County taxpayers, however, pay the insurance on the vehicles. Atkins said Bartlett purchased a 2007 Chevrolet Tahoe Nov. 29 for himself and a 2007 Tahoe last week for Chief Deputy Mike Corley.
She said the commission office added the vehicles to the county automobile insurance. One is insured for $40,000 and the other one for $39,000, Atkins said.
Seth Burkett contributed to this article.
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