Monday, December 20, 2010

BUY BONDS! - Liberty In Chains - McLennan Court Faces Decision On Sweetheart Deal Tomorrow

Conversation with an outlaw cop shines revealing light on jail deal...

“The Indenture.” - The County is required under the Lease to pay to the Trustee Rental Payments which are sufficient, in both time and amount, to pay, when due, the principal of, premium, if any, and interest on the Series 2009 Bonds. The County’s obligation to pay the Rental Payments and other additional amounts required pursuant to the Lease, including Operation and Maintenance Costs, is payable solely from the County Project Revenues and other available money appropriated annually for such purpose by the Commissioners Court of the County for such purpose. If the County fails to appropriate available money which, together with County Project Revenues, is sufficient for the payment of all such amounts in any fiscal year of the County, the Lease will terminate and the Issuer may take possession of the Project. - Revenue bond agreement for Jack Harwell Detention Center - $49.9 million in “AA” bonds sold tax-free to investors wealthy enough to afford to buy them in $5,000 increments

Waco – Ken Witt is an outlaw. A peace and corrections officer for the past 25 years, he got his first “real” job as a cop setting up the police department at Carl's Corner.

“I worked for minimum wage,” he remembers, speaking in a rueful tone.

He rode herd on Willie's Fourth of July Picnic one year, arresting about 80 drunks whom he placed in a temporary jail to cool them off before releasing them to go back to the party.

Today, he is the President of the McLennan County Sheriff's Officers Association, an interest group that is battling privatization of law enforcement and pushing for civil service status for the men and women who wear the badge of the County Sheriff's Department. In some ways, he feels as if he and his brother and sister officers have been placed outside the protection of the law - outlawed, so to speak.

Deputy Witt is frustrated – outraged, to say the least – by a system he sees as spinning madly out of control by building a $50 million jail originally planned as a 1,000-bed facility and later trimmed to its 816-man capacity, something that he sees as simply unnecessary.

The Texas Commission on Jail Standards, he points out, former county sheriff Adan Muñoz commanding, estimated originally that with the normally expected rise in population, local jail capacity would expand at the rate of about 30 to 50 prisoners per year in terms of jail capacity per year, amounting to a need for one additional wing to be added onto the existing County Jail on Highway 6 – 300 beds.

Somewhere, things went out of whack, he says; the train went off the tracks, to say the least.

In fact, he speaks in terms of extreme prejudice when he talks about the Jack Harwell Detention Center that has been built to be operated by CEC (Civigenics), Inc., a private New Jersey-based corporation.

“I need to prove this is a crime,” he states bluntly, gesturing to a bedroom in his apartment that is crammed with file cabinets, briefcases and stacks of documents piled almost waist high, paperwork that relates the history of the development of a sweetheart deal that he says has gone out of control.

“This is a white collar crime.”

The net net of the deal?

Deputy Sheriff's officers find themselves working short-staffed in 12-hour shifts these days. Employees of the private corporation work for half their wages and the economics of the deal are depressing in other ways, as well.

What about the effect on law and order?

“You know every time they bring someone in that back door, those clerks research them to see if they're eligible for a PR (personal recognizance) bond.”

The jail is a revolving door in which the same alleged offenders are apprehended, then released time and again for multiple offenses – always for zero dollars in bond fees, he says.

“Is that my job?” He grimaces. “When I became a cop, you were one of the good guys.” He shrugs, crosses his arms, frowns.

Deputy Witt's prediction going into Tuesday's make or break decision on whether to extend the moratorium on CEC's payments for use of the now-defunct and empty 326-bed downtown County Annex Jail at the courthouse?

The Commissioners Court will either extend the sweetheart deal, or they will resume asking Civigenics to make their payments of an estimated $30,000 to $40,000 per month. Either way, the private corporation can bail out – as they have in other locations such as the Johnson County Law Enforcement Center at Cleburne and a private penitentiary developed by an economic development corporation at Harding, Montana – among others.

“There is a difference between white collar crime and other crime...The citizens are the victims, but they don't feel like they're the victims.”

The end result is this. After 25 years of paying the sinking fund debt service - this year's payments amount to $3.7 million - McLennan County will have the opportunity to make a final payment of more than $7 million to make the final purchase on a 25-year-old building.

From an audio clip made at a recent Commissioners Court meeting.

County Commissioner Joe Mashek to Auditor Steve Moore:

"How much have we received from Harris County?"

Mr. Moore:

"They owe use $324,000"

Mr. Mashek:

"How much have we received?"

Mr. Moore:


County Judge Jim Lewis:

"I'll make a call."

Conversation ends.

Judge Lewis is the former County Jail Administrator.

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