Perry residents ask to see jail expenses

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 24, 2005

Three years and three months have passed since the Perry County Commission first accepted a bid to build the new Perry County Jail, and one group of residents say it’s time they knew the details of the project’s finances.

“It was January 22, 2002, when they looked at the bids and we started having this discussion,” said Marion’s Charlie Holmes, member of the Concerned Citizens of Perry County. “We’ve been waiting three years and now we’re asking that the books be opened.”

Holmes said the Concerned Citizens have several questions about spending on the jail,

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most notably why a project that was supposed to cost $2.5 million has, the Citizens believe,

already gone over budget by hundreds of thousands of dollars. The overspending has come, Holmes says, despite the jail’s architectural plan having been changed from two floors to one and from a sizable parking lot to a smaller model.

“We have not been given accountability,” Concerned Citizen Cynthia Maddox told the Perry Commision before their meeting Tuesday morning. “I am suspect because I do not see a product commensurate with the amount of money being spent.”

Maddox addressed the Commission during the hour prior to the 9 a.m. meeting, which the Commission sets aside for public comment. The Citizens had sought to be placed on the meeting’s official agenda to present their requests for account information, and Holmes was told by Commission Chair Johnny Flowers shortly after 8 that that would not be an issue.

However, Flowers and commissioner Albert Turner, Jr. both issued strong denials of impropriety during the public comments period, and the placing of the Citizens on the agenda was delayed until after the Commission’s executive session. At that point Holmes agreed to submit the Citizens’ written request directly into the meeting’s minutes rather than present it to the Commission.

“Probably the quickest way to give you the info you want is the county’s audit,” Turner said before the meeting. “It details all the expenditures we have made from the general fund on the jail. If you look at the findings in the audit, you will see the only things we have spent money on are ones we can lawfully spend money on.”

The audit was also a good solution, Turner said, because it would save both the Citizens and the county bookkeepers the effort of digging through the books.

“That will save you time and save our employees time,” he said. “Rather than going through the daily logging, the audit is always prepared and will give you a head start.”

Despite his suggestions to the Citizens, Turner did second and vote for the motion to include the Citizens’ request in the minutes.

The request asks for the Commission to produce “a complete accounting of all funds that have been received and dispersed for the construction of the new Perry County Jail. We request that this accounting be made within a reasonable time frame for the public to review. This request requires the date of each check written, the amount of each check, what checking account funds were dispersed, to whom the funds were paid, and for what service the funds dispersed satisfied.”

Holmes said afterwards he doubted the county’s audit would not provide all of that information. He acknowledged that the Citizens had accomplished their primary goal in getting the request into the official record, but was disappointed there appeared to be no timetable established in having that request granted.

“We did get them into the minutes,” he said, “and now we’ll see what they’ll do with it. We’ll pursue it after a little while if nothing happens.”

In other news from the Commission meeting:

* The Commission voted to institute a random drug testing program for employees of the county. The program may have been, in part, a reaction to the actions of an unidentified employee referred to on record only as “Employee One.” Employee One was suspended by the Commission for 6 months pending his certification in a rehabilitation program.

* The county agreed on a new 3-year contract with current county engineer Danny Overton. Commissioner Flowers praised Overton’s previous work for the county, telling him, “We’re glad to have you aboard.”

* Beavers are causing problems in Perry, with one particularly substantial dam flooding a creek over a county road, causing it water damage. Overton said he was working on the problem, and indicated dynamite would likely be necessary.