OKLAHOMA CITY — Since the previous meeting of the Jail Trust, there have been two more deaths at the Jail but none were discussed at Friday’s meeting, the first in a month.
And, the Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Authority, or Jail Trust, found itself in a bind with the public when it comes to public comment rules for their meetings.
The Trust did vote to maintain their indenture instead of adjusting voting protocols for small quorums.
The Trust also revised their meeting schedule to have fewer meetings and heard about the Jail administration’s response to the weather emergency.
One member also took the time to compare activists that attend these meetings to the rioters who viciously attacked the US Capitol in January, resulting in the deaths of five people including a police officer.
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The Trust received a list of capital improvement projects from CEO of the Trust, Greg Williams.
The list includes items such as updated cell doors and locks, new camera equipment to replace the analog system currently in place, elevator repair, and more. The total amount estimated in the list was $5,940,556.
With the Trust’s vote, the document will be sent to the County Budget Board and ultimately to the Board of County Commissioners for approval.
Trustee Francie Ekwerekwu asked if the vendors listed on the proposal were the best vendors to use since much of the equipment they installed previously is now not functioning properly.
It was explained that the vendors listed were contacted for quotes for the purpose of constructing a budget, but that new contracts would have to be negotiated for most things for the coming year.
Tricia Everest, Chair of the Trust, said that the Trust inherited a lot of contracts in their “hostile takeover” of Jail operations.
The budget request was approved unanimously.
Ekwerekwu requested a resolution to change the Trust’s indenture so that a majority could rule in more votes.
At present, according to Trust counsel John Michael Williams, five votes are needed for any affirmative action. Readers might remember that last year a vote of 4-2 was taken in favor of removing ICE from the Jail. That vote was declared invalid since it lacked the indenture’s required five votes.
Ekwerekwu’s resolution would have required a simple majority of a quorum for an item to pass. Notably, Ekwerekwu’s resolution provided that for the incurrence of debt, settlement of litigation, or amendment of the Trust’s indenture would still require five votes.
Everest said that she did not support the resolution because it would give “three people the votes of nine.”
Instead, if a meeting only has a quorum of five trustees, all votes, including the approval of minutes from a previous meeting, or adjournment of a meeting, would have to have unanimous support to pass.
The resolution was supported by Trustee Sue Ann Arnall, who said that she could see both sides, but that, since the meeting regularly only has six or seven attendees, this gives a vote to trustees who won’t come to meetings.
The resolution failed 5-2, Ekwerekwu and Arnall voting in favor.
As with every meeting of the Jail Trust for the past many months, public comment was again a sticking point for the Trustees and members of the public who wished to address the Trust.
A new rule for public comment requires that comment is made as an agenda item is introduced.
Many members of the public spoke about that in Friday’s meeting, saying that having to comment at the beginning of an item kept them from hearing the substance of the trustees’ thoughts and plans for the item.
That point was especially salient when the public was asked for their comments on CEO Greg Williams’s regular report on Jail operations and COVID response before that report had yet been given.
A working committee was formed at the last meeting of the Jail Trust. The Detention Center Action Committee will be chaired by Ekwerekwu and include trustees Arnall and Senator Ben Brown.
An item on the agenda for Friday’s Trust meeting called for a report from that committee, though they have been unable to hold their first meeting due to weather. Ekwerekwu spoke briefly about their plans to include a diverse range of community members to bring their skills to bear on that committee.
Brown asked if he could speak about some things, and was recognized by the chair.
Brown’s stated opinion was that 15 people is far too many for a working group to have. That sentiment was later echoed by Jim Couch.
But before Couch was able to address that concern, Brown had more to say.
“I was reminded as I watched the events of January 6 at the U.S. Capitol of the people yelling through bullhorns, rummaging through, and threatening, and lots of profanity. Some of that reminded me of what we’ve had to endure at the Jail Trust,” Brown said. “And some of the names that you have here are some of the people who were involved in that crowd. So that raises lots of concern with me.”
Trustee M.T. Berry said that he trusted Ekwerekwu to chair that committee and would not pass judgment on the number of people added, nor on who those people might be.
Ekwerekwu said that she is impressed with the people who have been selected for this committee and that they have been carefully selected. She said that she stands behind the list and the people on it, in spite of the opinions of others on the topic.
Due to an oversight, public comment had not been allowed at the beginning of the item. After discussion, Everest made room for comments on the item. One of the people slated for possible inclusion on the committee and to whom Brown was referring, Adriana Laws, responded to Brown’s comments.
She said that it is an honor to be asked to serve on this committee and that she looks forward to bringing her skills and life experience to the committee.
She then responded to Brown’s comments.
“Mister Brown, I only ask, now that we are sitting on this committee, that maybe we should get to know each other a little better before we pass judgment,” said Laws. “I would also ask that you don’t ever compare my passion for equality and justice to a bunch of white supremacists who are mad their racist president lost.”
“In case you forgot, my yelling and bullhorn use in your meetings led to helping hundreds of small businesses and nonprofits in Oklahoma County,” continued Laws. “Anything I’ve done has not been with malicious intent, it has been with the greater good of the community in mind and I would appreciate it if you could recognize that and not be disrespectful in that manner again. And if you’ve ever felt like your life was in danger in my presence like our United States Congress felt like that day, I would like to hear more about it.”
After the meeting, Free Press spoke with Tricia Everest about the comments made at Friday’s meeting and the rules regarding public comment.
“We have some trustees that want more public comment, and some who want less. Some even want none,” Everest said.
Regarding Brown’s comments, Everest said that she couldn’t speak to the opinions of a member of the Trust.
She went on to say, “When I believe we’ve been generous with public comment, generally speaking, what has really taken away from someone’s arguments is that when someone has a different opinion they have been ridiculed in those meetings. That includes Trustees, staff, and even other members of the public who have taken the time to come to the meeting and express their own opinion.”
Operations and COVID
Greg Williams gave a brief report on operations at the Jail. He spoke mostly about the planning and response to the weather crisis that struck most of the central portion of the United States over the previous week.
Staffing remains the chief concern for operations. The Jail recently increased pay for staff by 10% in an effort to recruit and incentivize working at the Jail. He said they were conducting interviews this week in spite of the weather, and intended to interview more applicants this weekend.
During the storm, power was never lost and, according to Williams, adequate heat was maintained. Extra blankets were purchased and distributed among the detainees. Due to water pressure failures experienced across the city, bottles of water were served with each meal, and buckets of water were used to manually flush toilets.
All three meals of each day were served hot, Williams said, though they had prepared many sandwiches ahead of time and froze them in case power was lost.
This morning’s population count at the Jail was 1663, with 152 of them scheduled for transport to the custody of the Department of Corrections.
In the past 14 days, Williams said the jail has administered 414 COVID tests with 2 positive cases.
The Jail Trust is next scheduled to meet on March 1 at 1:00 p.m.
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