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Grayson County Jail Bond Election Canceled; Privatization Proposal May be Dead

Kathy Williams reports that Grayson County's jail bond election is canceled, and County Judge Drue Bynum's desire to build a new private jail may be squelched. From the Sherman Herald-Democrat ("Grayson County jail bond election canceled; entire process could begin anew", Sep. 10):

There will be no Grayson County Jail bond election Nov. 3. County Judge Drue Bynum said Thursday he also holds little hope of getting a privately built and operated jail approved. So Grayson County will begin anew the process of deciding what to do with an aging jail and future inmate populations.

The Combined Law Enforcement Association of Texas (CLEAT) indicated on Wednesday it would file a lawsuit challenging the legality of the entire Grayson County Commissioners Court meeting that occurred on August 31 in state district court. Andrew wrote last week that Grayson County approved a November public jail bond election at that meeting, but Commisioners were hedging their bets on the bond proposal. On August 31, commissioners also approved several items that would have moved privatization of the County Jail forward, including a new public facilities corporation (PFC) that would have sidestepped voters by financing a private facility with revenue bonds, and the form of a contract with Southwest Correctional to build and operate the Grayson County Jail (for more on Public Facility Corporations, check out Considering a Private Jail, Prison or Detention Center? A Resource Packet for Community Members and Public Officials).

According to CLEAT, the County Commissioners Court violated the Texas Open Meetings Act by posting its August 31 agenda at least one minute short of the 72-hour advance notice required by law. If CLEAT won a declaratory judgment against Grayson, the County Commissioners Court would have to void all actions taken during the August 31 meeting. This would require the county to postpone any jail bond election until May of 2010.

County Judge Drue Bynum, who indicated to the Herald-Democrat on Wednesday that he was ready to confront the legal challenge from CLEAT, conceded Thursday that the Commissioners Court did, in fact, violate the Texas Open Meetings Act.

From the Herald Democrat:

As much as I hate to acknowledge it, we were late and we didn't meet the letter of the law. I think we certainly met the spirit," Bynum said in a telephone interview. "I am willing to void the entire 31 Aug. agenda. ... Obviously we won't need to ratify the entire bond election, because it's too late for that. Bynum said the Court will have to discuss Monday where to go from here on the jail issue.

We'll be following developments from Grayson County closely.

A special note-- Kathy Williams at the Sherman Herald Democrat deserves our high-praise for doing such a stellar job of reporting on the Grayson County Jail saga. Thanks, from all of us at Texas Prison Bid'ness!

Related:

GEO Guards Threaten to Strike in Pearsall

Months of negotiation seem to be at a stalemate in South Texas. Guards at the GEO owned South Texas Detention Complex are considering a strike after not achieving the pay raise they have asked for. According to local station News 4 WOAI (Private Prison Personnel Could Walk Off Job, January 14, 2009):

The union's chief negotiator Howard Johannssen says, "This employer refuses to give them a pay raise of any sort."

The pending strike is another example of the extra cost associated private prisons. According to news reports, if guards do strike the immigrant detainees held in the private prison lockup will be moved across the state at taxpayers' expenses. ICE issued a statement to News 4 WOAI that reads:

"Discussions are underway between the GEO Management staff at the South Texas Detention Complex (STDC) in Pearsall, Texas, and the union that represents its bargaining unit employees. GEO is under contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to operate and maintain STDC. The employees involved in these discussions are not employed by ICE or the Department of Homeland Security. ICE is not directly involved in these discussions. Any questions regarding specific issues under discussion should be directed to GEO or to its union."

"ICE is committed to ensuring that all ICE detainees — at the STDC and throughout the country — are maintained in a safe, secure and humane environment. Whatever the result of the ongoing discussions at STDC, ICE is prepared to respond appropriately to ensure the continuation of safe and secure operations at the facility."
"ICE encourages all the parties involved to continue their efforts to reach a fair and equitable agreement. However, it would be inappropriate for ICE to comment or speculate regarding hypothetical situations, especially while discussions and negotiations are underway.”

We will keep y'all posted as developments around this pending strike continue.

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