A new committee will take a look at the Valencia County jail and the county’s contract with Cornell to operate the facility.
During an executive session of the Valencia County Commission Tuesday, commissioners agreed to set up a committee with Commissioners Alicia Aguilar and Frank Pando, County Manager James Fernández and two representatives of the Association of Counties, Jack Daly and Lester Nixon.
Nixon, risk manager for the Association of Counties, said before the meeting that he is “interested in the entire jail issue, and there are so many counties with financial problems.
“We want to make sure we have the best possible situation in all the county jails.”
Commissioner Gary Daves, who headed a previous committee looking at the jail, walked out of the executive session, saying it should have been discussed in public.
County Attorney Tom Garde reported on the executive session, saying “Commissioners met with Nixon and Daly and discussed legal issues of a breach of contract with Cornell and ramifications of a violation of lawsuits and standards as part of that judgement.”
Aguilar said the commission should proceed with the new committee “and forge a plan of action to move forward, and then have a workshop for the public and form recommendations in two weeks.”
Pando said he would like the committee to meet as soon as possible to establish ground rules and stick to the issues. He said he would like to have an open meeting.
“I’m sick of the innuendos and the lies and going all over the county. I want this to be open,” he said.
Daves said during the commission meeting that he would like to know the mission of the group since he was not at the executive session.
Pando replied that “we’re going to look at the jail issue. We’re in limbo as to where we’re going. We have two options: either comply (with the present contract) or go to court. That will cost us twice as much.
“Or Cornell could tell us to go jump in the river. They don’t have to renegotiate the contract.
“They don’t have to negotiate. They’re willing. It’s a window of opportunity; we should take advantage of it. We should go forward, otherwise, all we do is talk, and talk is cheap.”
Daves said he would still like to see competitive bids on a contract to run the jail. “The (previous) jail committee has been repudiated by the commission,” he said. “The commission has repudiated the findings of the committee. I wish this committee well. If it’s a negotiating team, it should act like a negotiating team and strategize. I have no idea what it is this committee will do.”
He said he will vote against the committee. “Those who know better than I have taken over,” he said.
“I hope our employees gain from it and the county will gain from it. I will try and define a role for me and get the employees back to work.”
Pando said he would like to see representatives from the Department of Finance and Administration and the attorney general’s office present at the meetings.
During a break, Aguilar said that “philosophy will not get us anywhere” and the county needs to look at some of the proposals on how the jail could save money, such as monitoring bracelets.
“We need a solution. Trust me, in two weeks, we will have a solution,” she said.
The county received a letter from Cornell, dated May 6, saying the jail has exceeded the bed capacity. In order to maintain 126 beds at the facility, they would have to hold 10 inmates per day at an outside facility. That would amount to $14,700 a month, not counting transportation costs.
“It is imperative to begin this process as soon as possible,” the letter said.
Commissioners expressed concern about the letter, saying the committee has to come up with some solutions soon.
Daves said “this just shows a range of tools Cornell has in pushing the county to where it wants. We are acquiescing to Cornell’s power. The county should develop some tools of its own.”
He asked for an independent financial audit of Cornell’s operation. Pando suggested that the National Institute of Corrections do an analysis. He said he’d get more information.