Saturday, May 30, 2015

Temper flare, Councilmembers fight back over relocation of jail

On Wednesday night Council members from southeast Davidson County showed some spunk. They put Sheriff Daron Hall on the hot seat about the proposed relocation of the county jail to a new $110 million facility to be build in southeast Davidson County.  This new facility would combine all of the jail facilities into one location on Harding Place. This was announced by the mayor recently, catching members of the council and the public by surprise. There had been no neighborhood meetings on the issue and council member had not been briefed prior to the public announcement.

Councilman Duane Dominy ask if all of the facilities are fully accredited and getting an answer in the affirmative he then ask if facilities were fully accredited last year, how did we get to the place that  we need new facilities now. He says last year the city paid $1.5 million for a study of the correction facility and a master plan and he probes as to what we got for our money. He can not get straight answers. Things get a little testy (see time stamp 19:25).

Council member Jacobia Dowell gets recognized and ask how the conclusion of the study that recommended relocating the jail to Harding Place was reached. Budget and Finance chair Pridemore tries to shut her up, saying she needs to restrict her questions to the 2015-2016 budget. She argues that it is relevant to the budget and ask what would be wrong with putting off the decision to build a new jail and letting the council evaluate the study. Sheriff Hall gets defensive and goes on the offence saying, "I think you are doing a disservice to this city."  In my view, he is insulting. He says the opposition is politically motivated due to pending elections.

Councilmember Karen Johnson then begins questioning, echoing the line of questioning of Councilmember Dowell. She says when the council funded the study we were told we would be involved and consulted along the way and that has not happened. Councilmember Johnson is very calm and polite and Hall goes into attack mode. When Johnson makes a comparison of putting the jail in Southeast Nashville to dumping all of the cities garbage in Boudreaux for many years, the B&F chairman says her remarks are inappropriate and ask her to restrict her remarks to something new concerning the budget. Things get real testy and Pridemore cuts her off her mic. Bedne comes to her defense and she is allowed to continue.  Tempers flare. (see time stamp 34:26 to end)

It is refreshing to see Councilmembers get riled. I commend Councilman Dominy, Johnson, Dowell and Bedne for showing some backbone and fighting back. Too often the council just rolls over and plays dead. Unfortunately we have a weak council. Part of that is because of the go-along, get-along hiding-in the herd mentality of the current council, but part of it is structural. One of the few powers the council has is to modify the budget presented by the mayor. The council can cut budgets and can shift money within the budget. That can get the attention of department heads.

The office of Sheriff is a little different than other departments, because the Sheriff is elected by the people and while his budget must be approved by the Council, he must stand for election and this gives him more power and prestige than other department heads such as the chief of police or fire chief. Duran Hall has been a popular sheriff but if he continues this heavy handed approach of forcing this jail relocation on Antioch then he may be open to a challenge next election.

I hope the members of the Council unite and vote to take the appropriation for the new jail out of the capital spending plan. I know the downtown property where the jail sits is valuable property, but I think the jail should stay right where it is. Also, I am very skeptical of the claim that it is cheaper to tear down the existing building and build a new building rather than perform maintenance on the current building. One thing I have learned, and maybe it sounds skeptical, but consultants are often paid to tell you what you want to here.

Antioch, about twenty years ago was the booming, thriving part of town but now it is becoming the poor part of town. With the once thriving Hickory Hollow mall mostly abandoned and low-income people forced out of downtown and relocating to Antioch and with the Antioch zip code being the fifth worst state zip code hit by the housing crisis and still not yet fully recovered, this part of town does not deserve to be the dumping ground for all of our county prisoners. This will lead to a proliferation of pawn shop, pay day lenders and bail bondsmen.  Also, when released from jail some inmates will remain in the area.  A new mayor may have an emphasis on spreading the wealth and lifting up all parts of the county and may have a different vision for Nashville. This decision should be put off until after the next election and the decision should not be rushed.

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