BROOKSVILLE — Corrections Corporation of America has told Hernando County that it may start removing items from the Hernando County Jail as soon as next week, a full month before the company is set to turn over the facility to the sheriff.
In a flurry of correspondence in recent days, CCA has notified the county that it has a right to remove the items and will start doing so, even taking equipment that the county says the company may not own, if some agreement on ownership is not settled by Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the attorney for the Clerk of the Circuit Court has recommended that the county seek an immediate court injunction to stop that from happening.
Sheriff Richard Nugent is set to take over the jail at the end of August but the county and CCA have been arguing about which items in the jail, including a huge kitchen dishwasher, are going and which are staying.
On Wednesday, Tom Hogan Jr. of the Hogan Law Firm wrote to County Attorney Garth Coller recommending the injunction. "If CCA is allowed to remove said assets from the jail, recovery of the same becomes problematic,'' wrote Hogan.
"Of greater importance, however, is the fact that the operation of the jail by its very nature is a dangerous business,'' Hogan wrote. "The removal of jail assets by CCA could place the Sheriff's Office personnel in danger and thereby, the county at risk, when the Sheriff assumes the responsibility for the operation of the jail on Aug. 27, 2010.''
In a Thursday letter to County Administrator David Hamilton, CCA official Natasha Metcalf states that "CCA has the right to remove all CCA-owned property from the Hernando County Jail at any time. Accordingly, CCA will continue to remove CCA-owned property from the facility as permitted under the contract.''
She goes on to state that the county has until Wednesday to discuss any issues about those items still in dispute and, after that point, CCA will remove those items as well.
If the county wants to buy any of the CCA property, Metcalf asks that the county provide an itemized list and a proposed purchase price.
Throughout the inventory dispute, Nugent has been a bit of a bystander.
In a letter this week to Commission Chairman John Druzbick, Nugent expressed concern that the upheaval over the inventory was making it difficult for him and his transition team to plan for a smooth takeover.
Using the $30,000 dishwasher as his example, Nugent urges the county to "immediately exercise all appropriate legal measures to ensure that the county-owned property remains in the jail'' because "the taxpayers should not have to purchase the same equipment a second time.''
He concludes by encouraging the county to "resolve the equipment ownership issues now rather than later, as waiting on a post-transition legal process will likely cost the county and the taxpayers unnecessary dollars.''
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.