News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion
SUNDAY, MARCH 26, 2006


No winners in shameful fight over jail staffing

U.S. District Judge U.W. Clemon two weeks ago held court in Decatur to settle the issue of how many jailers will staff the new Morgan County Jail.

He didn't side with Sheriff Greg Bartlett or with County Commissioner Stacy George, the two central figures in the on-going controversy.

The judge settled on 88, 10 more than Mr. George led the County Commission to approve and 14 fewer than the sheriff's scaled-back request.

Judge Clemon wasn't far down Interstate 65 on his way back to Birmingham before both sides claimed victory, with the sheriff saying the judge meant for him to have the 88 plus the nine dispatchers already on the payroll.

Not so, Mr. George said. Thus the judge had to revisit the mess in a written order issued last week. In essence, he said that 88 means 88, but he wasn't going to get involved in a dispatcher issue or in a local political battle. "In the outset, it is well to remind the sheriff and the commissioners that this court lacks both the inclination and the authorization to resolve political disputes," he wrote.

He emphasized that he wants the 2001 consent decree that led to building the new jail carried out to his liking.

The follow-up opinion last week is further rebuke of Morgan County government for not handling the matter in a reasoned manner. But he is leaving it to voters to make several key decisions about the participants. The sheriff challenged Mr. George to run against him in this year's Republican primary. Mr. George accepted, even if the sheriff was talking through his hat at the time, because incumbents usually don't openly invite opposition.

The feud probably cost both officeholders political capital. Whichever one wins the primary will face a Democratic opponent who isn't sullied by Daffy Duck, pig epithets and jail staffing.

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