Sheriff awarded jail contract

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It's not every day I get a big hug from a County Commissioner, and I wouldn't necessarily welcome a hug from any old County Commissioner. But I was proud to receive one from Tulsa County Commissioner Randi Miller as thanks for my part in shining the light of public scrutiny on the competition for a nearly $100 million five-year contract to operate Tulsa County's jail. On Friday, the Tulsa County Criminal Justice Authority (TCCJA) awarded the contract to the Tulsa County Sheriff's Department.

Shortly after the vote, Miller and Tulsa Mayor Bill LaFortune spoke at the Tulsa County Republican Men's Club's monthly luncheon. They were exultant that control over the jail had been returned to a public official who is accountable to the voters for law enforcement and public safety, not to corporate shareholders. The Commissioner was kind enough to acknowledge me from the podium as she spoke to the club; after her speech she came over to deliver the hug.

When she first contacted me a week and a half ago about the issue, Miller felt that deals were being worked to give the contract once again to Correctional Corporation of America (CCA), the company that has run the jail for the last five years. This time, CCA was over $2 million per year more expensive than the low bidder, but they were allowed to submit a second, lower bid, which excluded the cost of utilities, courthouse transportation, and certain medical expenses, cost shifting that would be borne by the county. It was a low bid in name only, but the sense was that CCA would have the support of five of the TCCJA commissioners. (The TCCJA includes the three Tulsa County Commissioners, the mayor of Tulsa, and one suburban mayor from each of the County Commission districts -- currently Broken Arrow, Collinsville, and Glenpool.) Miller felt she could support either the GEO Group, the low-bidder, or the Sheriff's Office, only a few hundred thousand dollars higher than the GEO Group. LaFortune was committed to the Sheriff's Office.

I had the opportunity to look over the bids and like Miller was impressed with the responses of the GEO Group and the Sheriff's Office. It was clear, as well, that CCA's cost-shifting low bid would put Tulsa County in an even worse financial situation, carrying the risk for rising energy and medical costs. As it was the week I was cohosting with Gwen Freeman on KFAQ, I had the chance to talk about it on the air, and we interviewed Commissioner Miller in the studio.

Miller believes the public exposure of the issues and CCA's apparent inside track made all the difference. By the time of the meeting, Miller and LaFortune were able to persuade Broken Arrow Mayor Richard Carter to work with them. Efforts to shift the votes of the other suburban mayors were unsuccessful.

When the Friday meeting began, Miller quickly made the motion to accept the Sheriff's bid, getting a second from LaFortune. This was very heads up on the part of Miller -- if someone else had made the first motion for CCA, the vote might have gone very differently. As the roll was called, there were three votes for the Sheriff (Miller, LaFortune, Carter), three against (County Commissioner Wilbert Collins, Collinsville Mayor Stan Sallee, Glenpool Mayor Charles Campbell).

The last to vote was County Commissioner Bob Dick, who is chairman of the County Commission this year, and chairman of the TCCJA. There was a great deal of suspense -- Dick was described as "on the hot seat" -- and much surprise when he cast the deciding vote to give the contract to the Sheriff.

CCA put a lot of effort into lobbying for this contract. On Friday CCA locked down the jail in order to be able to send more on-duty personnel to the County Courthouse to lobby, along with every off-duty employee.

At the Republican luncheon, Miller and LaFortune spoke about the advantages of having a law enforcement agency run the jail. LaFortune said he supports privatization in many cases, but not when it comes to public safety. With the Sheriff in charge, there is direct accountability to the public. If there's a problem, no one has to consult with the head office a thousand miles away. The buck stops with the Sheriff. The Sheriff's Office understands the concerns of police departments and other law enforcement agencies and will work with them to make the booking process efficient and get officers back out on the street.

Friday was a win for public safety and the citizens of Tulsa County, and we need to thank Commissioner Miller and Mayor LaFortune for working to make it happen.

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I'm referencing an article from that actually has to do with who won the bid to run the Tulsa County Jail. The vote was split, but the Sheriff won in the end. The current jail operator, a contractor by the name of Corrections Corporation... Read More


Concerned Citizens said:

Commissioner Randi Miller is a wonderful role model of just what an elected official should be like!!! Only thing we can say about Mayor LaFortune, is that he followed Commissioner Miller's he certainly has not stepped up to the plate, for other vital situations within our community. He needs to do MUCH MORE, to regain any respect and support from the citizens!

I will say this for the Mayor, on this issue: He was the only member of the TCCJA who was utterly committed to returning the jail to the Sheriff's Office. Miller was open to either the GEO Group, which was a very good proposal, or the Sheriff. By insisting on the Sheriff, the Mayor made the Sheriff the only alternative to CCA that could realistically garner the necessary four votes.

Roy said:

Prisons run for profit violate biblical principles.

I have no idea what the Mayor thinks on that issue. His wife has papers I have written on the topic. I gave her copies when she was a fellow board member of Operation Hope Prison Ministry. I suspect what the Bible says does not carry a lot of weight in the thinking of either Kathy or Bill. But if Bill inisted that only the Sheriff be considered, bravo.

Al Nichols said:

I sent a comment but proceeded to screw it up. As I meant to say: I addressed the TCCJA a couple of months ago and advised them that the CCA was the epitome of inefficiency and unfairness to inmates, prospective inmates, and the families therof. One of the most egregious complaints I had with CCA was their booking process when an accused person with an outstanding warrant voluntarily appeared to post bond. The result in this case was that the bond payer(accused)instead of paying and walking, was booked, handcuffed, and thrown into a jail cell for 8 or more hours. Obviously, the procedure was designed to accumulate the maximum of prisoner hours for CCA which meant more dollars for them at the expense of the public. Stanley had promised that this procedure will change when he is again in charge. Good riddance to CCA and congratulations to Stanley who most likely will do a much better service to the public than any for-profit agency is capable of.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on March 20, 2005 11:41 PM.

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