County taxpayers spent $280,000 in legal fees following your predecessor’s allegations of misusing county resources. How are you accomplishing your expressed campaign goal of transparency?
Everything is open all the time. One of the things that was actually in the works for some time … was to have on the website a transparency portal by which the citizens could go in and look at the expenditures and receipts of county government. There was an effort at one point to outsource that to a private company. About 14 months ago, the county began looking at having our information systems folks do it in-house. We were able to go live with the transparency portal in March. Our checkbook is online for the public to look at. And it’s almost in real time. Because the county was proactive and trying to do it themselves, they saved about $20,000 a year in programming costs. About 1,700, 1,800 hits already to that site. If we don’t have transparency, accountability and the trust that comes with that, things will grind to a halt. And we’ve seen that happen.
There’s talk of moving the new jail out of Government Plaza. What’s the latest on that project?
The commission has only made one decision, which is to secure Oldcastle as our contractor for the precast concrete cells. Everything else is just concepts. There were several challenges that have kind of precipitated the decision that we made. No. 1, the price of steel, as one might imagine, has gone up dramatically. There are a couple of projects in the Middle East which have put a real damper on the availability of steel. We could have been delayed a couple of years even starting. I really try to pay close attention to what I’m hearing in the community from business leaders and recruiters. Do we want our signature building in downtown, our new building, to be an eight- or nine-story jail? What does that say about our community? Also, the sheriff is the one office that is spread out in multiple locations. If we had an off-site location, No. 1, you wouldn’t have to go as tall, which means you can do the precast concrete. When you don’t have a tall building but it’s more spread out, the sheriff and the jail-advance team, they informed us that over the 20 years there’s about $97 million in staff savings because you don’t have to have as many people running the jail. When a jail is tall, you have to replicate all your staff on every floor. If we were able to locate an off-site facility, it would allow us to consolidate most of the sheriff’s operations.
You were a longtime state lawmaker. What are some of the big wins for the county from the last session?
Greene County did very well in the legislative session. I have to give kudos to our legislative delegation, but two individual legislators helped us with something that we believe will improve the criminal justice system. Rep. [Curtis] Trent and Sen. [Lincoln] Hough were able to secure for us the first additional circuit court judge in Greene County since 1976. We have a flow problem with our criminal justice system and, of course, folks are backing up in the jail. The legislature also set aside $5 million for alternative monitoring programs. These are not ankle bracelets. It’s technology that’s basically phone-based, which has proven to reduce failure-to-appear situations and also better monitor those awaiting trial. The expungement [law], although it was already passed, the legislature made some improvements to that this year. There’s still some work to be done. But in this era where it is difficult to find folks ready to work, I think it’s incumbent upon us to do what we can to better prepare those who, maybe they’ve made a mistake, but they’ve lived an exemplary life since then. Let’s get them in the workforce.
Bob Dixon can be reached at email@example.com.
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