State Represenative, Kevin Bailey (D-Houston), requested an Attorney General (AG) opinion on whether it is legal for a sheriff to accept a fee for work with a private prison company, according to the Waco Tribune ("Texas House member asks state to rule on whether sheriff's pay from work with private detention company is legal," September 21).
Bailey currently chairs the House Committee on Urban Affairs. His AG requests comes after several private contract scandals surfaced. Over the last year, sheriffs in Bexar County and McLennan County have come under scrutiny.
McLennan County officials have rationalized why they believe the payments from private contractors are acceptable. According to an attorney that represents McLennan County, Sheriff Lynch receives a $12,000 salary supplement -- paid to the county from CivicGenics -- for administrative services associated with leasing the county's downtown jail to the private prison company.
Bailey's request asks for certain clarifications in current law.
“Although the sheriff may not actually be a shareholder of the private organization and hold a shareholder’s interest in the private organization, there can be no doubt that the sheriff would have a ‘financial interest’ in the private organizations’ contract with the county if the sheriff receives a sizable administrative fee after approving of the contract if the contract includes such an administrative fee to the sheriff,” Bailey wrote in his letter. “Thus, such an arrangement would violate the spirit and intent, if not the language of the law.”
There are over 256 counties in Texas. Each elects a sheriff that runs and manages the county jail. There is extremely limited oversight these sheriff's actions and their management of the jail. So, further clarification by the AG would be helpful. We will keep you posted on the AG's opinion.