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County requests CCA records for cost analysis of jail operations

BROOKSVILLE — County officials know all about public records requests. They get them all the time from citizens and the media.

This time, however, it is Hernando County making a rare public records request of its own.

Hernando officials want Corrections Corporation of America to release inventory and budgetary information to help the county analyze whether CCA or Sheriff Richard Nugent could offer the best deal of running the Hernando County Jail.

CCA, which has operated the jail for 22 years, received the request Monday, according to the company spokesman Steve Owen. "We're in the process of reviewing it and will be communicating our response back to the county,'' he said Tuesday.

CCA officials recently said they would open their books to the sheriff and the county. They argued that their records would show that they could run the facility for less taxpayer money than the sheriff could.

They told commissioners that it has cost Bay County millions more to operate its jail since CCA pulled out of there more than a year ago. That conflicted with what Nugent had been told by Bay County officials, which is that the Bay County sheriff was able to return $2 million to that county's general fund after its first year of operation.

County Administrator David Hamilton said Tuesday that the county attorney's office said CCA's records are covered by Florida's public records laws, and he wanted to be sure that the county and the commission can see all the information in the sunshine to make a good decision on jail governance.

CCA has in the past fought against divulging its records. In 1991, a Circuit Court judge ruled that the privately run jail is subject to the same disclosure requirements as are public agencies.

The Times Publishing Company, parent of the St. Petersburg Times, sued CCA after the company twice denied access to personnel records.

In other business

• County commissioners had no public response Tuesday to a plea by Clerk of the Courts Karen Nicolai that they reconsider a recent change in policy that allows any employee leaving the county the right to collect their unused "paid time off'' or PTO whether they left in good standing or were fired for cause.

In February, the commission had taken a provision out of the policy saying employees could collect their PTO if they were in good standing, but county officials suggested dropping that last part.

They had no real definition of good standing. Instead, they decided that PTO was an earned benefit.

Nicolai and her audit services director said the change sent a bad message, both to employees and the public. But when Nicolai's letter voicing concerns appeared on Tuesday's agenda, no commissioner pulled it to discuss a reconsideration.

• Hernando County has told former public works director Charles Mixson that the County Commission will conduct the post-termination or name-clearing hearing he has requested at the regular commission meeting April 13.

Mixson was fired by Hamilton earlier this year for a history of projects that have been delayed and over budget as well as a long list of additional missteps.

"The scope of the hearing will be limited to the factual statements contained within the termination notice provided by the county to Mr. Mixson and any public statements made by county officials,'' assistant County Attorney Jon Jouben wrote to Mixson's attorney Bruce Snow in a letter dated Monday.

• Commissioners approved an option on a 5.6-acre parcel of land north of Martin Luther King Boulevard adjacent to the new south Brooksville community center for possible use as a retention pond.

The decision to take the option, which will cost the county $1,000 a month for up to 18 months, is the next step in a series of complex actions needed to begin improving the infrastructure of the neighborhood, a primary goal of Hamilton and the community initiatives team working on the project.

The property, owned by Dauson Supply Corp., could hold water at one end of the neighborhood, allowing smaller and less expensive drainage improvements elsewhere in the community, utilities director Joe Stapf told the commission.

In addition to approving the option, the commission also approved a change in its funding partnership with the Southwest Florida Water Management District, allowing for a more comprehensive plan to improve south Brooksville drainage issues, to receive some Swiftmud funding.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1434.

County requests CCA records for cost analysis of jail operations 03/23/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 23, 2010 9:20pm]

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