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THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 16, 2006
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EDITORIAL

A positively good idea: Sheriff, commission talk

Somebody should have thought of asking the sheriff and county commissioners to sit down and have a quiet discussion about the new jail before things got to where they are today.

It's not that they haven't talked, but what was said wasn't what each side wanted to hear. Thus, the name calling, the hot tempers, the choosing of sides and what many people call an embarrassment to the county played out over the months leading up to opening the new $23 million jail some time this year.

So, Sheriff Greg Bartlett hired a lawyer who wrote a letter and suggested that the two sides confer over staffing numbers for the 400-bed jail before they take the matter to the federal judge who ordered the new facility built.

The sheriff wants to staff the jail as if it will be full when it opens. To do that, he wants money to pay for 102 jailers. The County Commission took the view that the sheriff will operate only two of the jail's four pods initially, and they cut the request to 78 jailers.

The letter from attorney Donald R. Rhea refers to the sheriff having "an adequate staff assembled with sufficient lead time" to get things ready for the opening.

"Adequate staff" seems to be the main sticking point, and it may take U.S. District Judge U.W. Clemmon to make that decision. Attorney Rhea said he plans to file a petition with the judge Friday unless things change.

But there is more. The inmates' attorney who filed the suit that brought down the old overcrowded jail isn't going away quietly. Lisa Kung says the entire Morgan County judicial system needs streamlining to keep a lower jail census and to comply with the consent decree filed on behalf of inmates.

That, understandably, has the judges a bit miffed and maybe defensive. Perhaps those involved in this side issue need to talk, also.

Unfortunately, the jail issue has as much to do with local politics as it does with staffing the jail. The sheriff is his own man and commissioners control the purse strings.

And the judges can't afford to appear soft on crime. Still, they should not automatically dismiss Ms. Kung's suggestions.

Then, again, this whole thing may have gone so far that it's time to call in the federal judge.

That's the usual way we settle fights in Alabama. Then we cuss the federal government.

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