Commentary: JOCAC discussions mirror early days of committee
Someone reading Anna Del Savio's Spotlight article, "Jail levy committee, county at odds", might think there is a contentious attitude on the Jail Operating Citizens Advisory Committee (JOCAC).
If they did, they would be correct.
But JOCAC discussions are no more contentious then they were during the first two years of the committee's existence. That 10-member committee had a few members who seemed as if they believed the committee was formed to praise the jail operation, and at least three members, including the chair and vice-chair, who had voted against the levy. One thing all members had in common is that they wanted to either show that, or determine if, funds for jail operations were spent exclusively on jail operations.
Early on, the committee decided that all members' concerns as to the use of jail funds would be addressed to each member's satisfaction. To satisfy those concerns the committee met almost every month for the first two years and worked with financial, jail and legal representatives to provide information the committee required. Personnel hiring, training and expenses; maintenance expenses; and capital projects were discussed at each meeting, and financial reports were evaluated at the end of each quarter. Additionally, individual committee members spent many hours interviewing the jail commander and the sheriff to determine proper use of jail funds. Items investigated included utility distributions (electricity, natural gas, water and sewer), shared accounts, and line-by-line evaluations of jail expenses.
At the end of two years, each member signed off that they were satisfied that all jail expenses went to jail operations, and if there were any small discrepancies, they were unintentional.
The committee also decided that, in addition to its charge to report its findings to the county commissioners, it would report all findings to the people of Columbia County with reports placed in every city hall and library, and it would be impartial in future levy campaigns.
Several committee members left at the end of three years and the committee asked the Columbia County Board of Commissioners to appoint a nine-member committee, with each member serving staggered three-year terms, to maintain continuity. Unfortunately, the county commissioners had difficulty finding new members and most of the original members left before new members arrived.
With only two original members on the committee, continuity has been lost and new members will need proof that levy funds are used properly.
To reduce costs the jail operates with an adequate but small staff of four deputies and a control technician on both the day and night shifts. On the day shift, there is also a sergeant, two transportation deputies and a court security deputy. Often extra personnel are required, if a deputy is out (although a shift is able to operate with three deputies, there must be both a male an a female deputy present); to stay with an inmate in a hospital as is currently happening (two deputies are required for a U.S. Marshals' prisoner); high-profile trials; and to bring someone back from out of state (currently need to pick someone up in Kansas, for example). In these instances, a patrol deputy is temporarily used. Patrol deputy trainers are also used for recertification training of jail deputies. When performing these operations, the patrol deputy's time is charged to jail operations. New committee members, as have past members, want to be certain that all payments to non-jail personnel are for services provided for jail operations.
Again, the committee should strive to see that all members' concerns as to the use of jail funds are addressed to each member's satisfaction. I am hopeful that the committee and jail and county officials can work together to provide that information in a cost-effective manner.
I am also hopeful that the committee can work together to find ways other than a forensic audit to assure committee member Dan Brown that jail funds are only spent on jail operations. Although county finances are audited annually, Sarah Hanson, the county's legal counsel, has determined that an in-depth audit of jail financial records would cost $40,000. The additional costs for a forensic audit have not been determined.
I do want to clarify one item in Del Savio's article, and that is a reference to a comment by Sheriff Brian Pixley that "requests for more records have to come through the committee chair." That may be what he said, I couldn't find the comment in the minutes, but in actuality any motion made and seconded would be decided by a majority vote of the committee.
Garrett Lines is the chair of the Jail Operating Citizens Oversight Committee. He lives in St. Helens.