Thursday, December 8, 2011

Old McLennan lockup neglected, dirty, moldy...

Private contractor's punch list extensive, costly

“All of a sudden, once you get a new car, that old car you got isn't worth driving anymore, that's the bottom line.” County Commissioner Kelly Snell

Waco – Sammy Sykora wasn't so sure he wanted to comply with a public information act request to share exactly what needs to be fixed at the old McLennan County Jail.

What's more, he wasn't so sure he wanted to supply a “list of the items the County has agreed are CEC's responsibility” to fix in order to get in compliance with the state jail standards commission and the Federal Bureau of Prisons' requirements for the care and feeding of ICE prisoners.

Release of the information has to be approved by the County Judge's office – after review by the County's attorney – and time takes time, it seems.

So Mr. Sykora hung up on The Legendary investigator and certified police and corrections officer R.S. Gates when he made a follow-up call to see what the hold-up could be.

This shocked Mr. Gates. He has never had a cross word with Sammy Sykora, and they've known each other for many years.

“First of all, I would like to apologize for my actions during the course of our phone call last week. I was having a hectic day but should not have allowed my frustrations to show in your call,” he wrote later.

Mr. Gates is on record saying he has never before had an unpleasant experience in decades of dealing with the Building Maintenance Supervisor. He wrote Judge Jim Lewis' Administrative Assistant Lynne Lockwood, asking why Mr. Sykora would so suddenly become ill with him.

Members of the County Commissioners Court have questioned the maintenence chief extensively on just whose responsibility it is to service the emergency generators, fire and smoke alarms, fix broken light fixtures, remove mold from showers, un-stick stuck cell doors, and repair exposed and unmounted electrical plugs.

The list is extensive. What it tells even the most casual of readers is that the old downtown jail – which has remained unoccupied for nearly a year – is a dark, dirty, moldy hell hole with leaking valves, rusty and balky doors, hundreds of inoperable light fixtures that need new bulbs, and electrical fixtures that have unmounted and exposed wiring.

So, what is the hold-up?

According to Chief Deputy Randy Plemons, repairs to the empty 316-bed lockup are on hold because the world of roof replacement over the past months makes it impractical to make any progress on the other problems until the structure is “dried-in,” so to speak.

That's what he told the Court at a recent work session.

The issues of putting a new roof on an old building are complicated because of the fact that the old jail next door to the Courthouse has been re-built, remodeled, augmented, expanded, re-designed - and new buildings have been built on top of and around, beside and inside existing buildings for more than a century.

In its day, the old calaboose has housed some very rough customers, including Clyde Barrow, who escaped using a pistol Bonnie Parker smuggled in under her clothes while on a jailhouse visit. The census of 1930 shows that Mr. Barrow was in residence there when the national head count took place for that troubled decade.

So a thumbnail sketch of expenses for the year shows that with a tax rate of 46 cents and a budget of $2.8 million to be spent on the Courthouse roof and remodeling and repairing the empty downtown jail, pigeonholing the loot it will take to straighten out problems with state and federal inspectors won't be an easy job.

Just deciding whose job is whose to perform hasn't been all that easily done.

Following questions by the Commissioners Court - and after it was learned that Mr. Sykora had gotten approval to say so - he wrote, “I have had a verbal acknowledgment from James McCormick and Warden Duke, both with CEC, that CEC will be addressing this list of repairs required at the downtown jail.”

What's on the list? What kind of items would the work of replacing the roof pre-empt?

An emergency diesel generator needs to be serviced by changing the crankcase oil and replacing the air, fuel and oil filters. That's the puppy that started the dialogue in the first place, judging from a review of audiotapes of the Court's meetings.

On the first floor:

Classiication office – no a/c, coils dirty, air not coming through vents
Lights out by booking desk
Seg (segregation) #3 missing screws – door hard to open
Violent 1 – leaking from light fixture
Padding needs to be replaced in violent cell...

In fact, in every area of the 6-story structure, lights are out, bulbs require replacement, and in many cases, the fixtures are leaking water.

And the list goes on, including two dryers in the basement laundry not working, a hot water circulating pump needing repair, exhaust fan not working, fire pumps needing inspection. All kitchen appliances need to be replaced. Many areas have floor tiles that are either loose or due to be replaced.

“Most light fixtures are covered with paper towels, paint, toothpaste,” the list concludes, along with the notation, “Most light fixtures have screws missing,” and “Lot of areas need to be painted and the entire jail needs a good cleaning.”

That item is underlined and typed in a much larger font.

Said R.S. Gates regarding his investigation and the cooperation of Mr. Sykora:

Anyone who follows my work knows the Commissioners' Court gets significant scrutiny. The scrutiny is not limited to the Sheriff or actions of the Court. In my years of involvement with the County, I have never found cause to question the actions of the director of maintenance of buildings. He runs a tight ship and from all appearances accomplishes a significant amount of work with efficient use of resources. I would be surprised if you could find anyone with even an unkind word to say about him. This investigation revealed the Director has documented due diligence while it appears the documents support that Randy Plemons misled the court. Even worse, there now appears to be a conspiracy of incompetence. The Court recently authorized paying Larry Lynch $12,000.00 a year for his oversight responsibilities yet the Director who received no such increase is the only person with documentation of performing his job responsibilities.


  1. Why isn't SHERIFF LYNCH the one responding to this inquiry?? It sounds like Sheriff Lynch IS being paid for this responsibility, but IS NOT the person actually doing it!?

    Has Sheriff Lynch ever been questioned or held accountable for the $12,000 annual jail oversight stipend? Seems he would have to provide a year-end report in order to receive it the next year...right?
    How many years did he recieve this?
    Who keeps track of SO administrative activity & documentation?
    Who recommended these expenditures if not the official being paid to oversee, assess, and recommend (Sheriff Lynch)?

  2. As a tax payer, I feel robbed! I would Not pay anyone to do a job at my house if he never even showed up! But larry gets to keep cashing his $12,000 check for just sitting around with Randy listening to "P.LEMONS" rap Video's??? They have taken advantage of all of us. Larry should be Persecuted over this.