Jackson County Executive Frank White responded sharply Monday when county legislators scolded his administration for heavily editing a consultant’s report concerning the county jail and then not telling them about it.
Legislator Dan Tarwater accused White’s aides of altering the Shive-Hattery report to fit what Tarwater believes is White’s preconceived notion that a new jail should not be much bigger than the overcrowded one it would replace.
“I for one do not trust that report,” Tarwater said. “It seems to me that information was scrubbed out of the report to fit the narrative.”
Not true, White said, clapping back at Tarwater when the 4th District legislator continued to press.
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“I don’t like being called a liar, to be honest with you, Mr. Tarwater,” White said, later adding: “Whether you trust that report or not, that’s you.”
But Tarwater wasn’t alone in calling out White for using what some saw as a bogus pretext — “security concerns” — as the reason for cutting large sections from the report that a consulting team submitted to the county in November.
“I agree with Dan,” said this year’s chairwoman, 6th District legislator Theresa Galvin. “The Shive-Hattery report means nothing to me.”
The Star reported last week that the final version released to the public in January was less than half the original’s 118 pages. Gone were two sections: One detailed shortcomings in mental health and medical care while White was still in charge of overseeing the jail last year. The other said a number of educational and counseling programs beneficial to detainees had been cut back or eliminated due to staffing shortages and changes in jail policy.
This week’s regular meeting of the county legislature was the first time legislators confronted White on the issue in a public forum.
In response to Tarwater’s probing, White denied that the report was edited to fit any agenda and said the full version had been available for legislators to read since he got it at the end of November.
If they didn’t know that, he said, it was the fault of legislators for not paying close enough attention to notices from his office. But Crystal Williams, 2nd District At-Large legislator, countered that it was White’s obligation to make sure the message was received.
“Lack of transparency at Jackson County is consistently why we get in trouble,” she said. “In the future, just make sure that we know.”
Tarwater said he hadn’t been aware that two versions of the report existed. Neither had Galvin. She said she was told that the report was edited, but understood that the omitted material included floor plans of the jail. Nothing like that was in the unedited report, she said, which made her suspicious of why the full report was withheld from the public.
White continued to maintain that the editing was necessary. Aides in his office and officials at the county corrections department recommended the cuts, he said, agreeing that some of the material in the original report should be kept confidential.
His chief of staff, Caleb Clifford, distributed a handout intended to show that all the key recommendations in the original report carried over to the public version.
But many of those recommendations were not backed up in the final report with material showing the background for making those suggestions. The Star found no obvious security concerns in the deleted materials and provided a link to the original version of the report when the story about the omissions was posted online on March 3.
The discussion ended on a hopeful note when legislators Tony Miller, 3rd District At-Large, and Ron Finley, 2nd District, said they were encouraged by last week’s news that White, Galvin and Sheriff Darryl Forté have formed a jail “working group.” Its aim is to move forward with plans to build a new jail, which the Shive-Hattery report said could cost as much as $270 million for a jail with 1,500 beds.
Said White, “I refuse to keep revisiting the past, I refuse to do that.”
In January he handed jail operations over to the sheriff’s office as a result of a charter change approved by voters in November.