Hernando County gives jail firm a deadline to settle inventory dispute

BROOKSVILLE — Corrections Corporation of America has until 5 p.m. today to reach an agreement with the county over its jail furnishings inventory dispute or face immediate legal action.

County commissioners on Tuesday voiced concerns that CCA has said it will begin removing from the jail items that it believes are owned by the firm in the coming days.

Commission Chairman John Druzbick asked about security at the jail if CCA begins removing beds, mattresses, cameras and other safety equipment before their contract ends and the sheriff takes over the facility late next month.

CCA officials watching the broadcast of the meeting immediately e-mailed the county saying they had "no intention of removing any items necessary for the continued day-to-day operation of the facility until the facility transitions to the county.''

Negotiations over the dispute have been ongoing for weeks. Late Monday, CCA proposed allowing the county to keep the remaining items in the jail if CCA would be held harmless on any other remaining issues.

But that would mean CCA could not be responsible for paying for any of the many jail upgrades and repairs that Hernando officials have said are needed to get the facility to an acceptable level. Assistant County Attorney Jon Jouben said the county couldn't agree to that and commissioners agreed.

Druzbick said he wanted to see the county file an injunction to stop CCA from taking anything out of the facility, but Jouben noted that the county would have to sue CCA to stop them. He said there was still room for negotiations.

Jouben also was concerned about talking about possible litigation publicly and said there might be some complications in getting an injunction.

"I'd prefer to negotiate this than litigate it,'' said Commissioner Rose Rocco.

Filing the injunction would just stop the action on the inventory and allow more time for working out the details, Druzbick argued. He also noted that as the deadlines CCA has tried to set have approached, CCA's willingness to negotiate seems to diminish.

Jouben and assistant county attorney Jeff Kirk offered a new proposal for the commission to consider. It would basically transfer all the items in the jail to the county when CCA leaves with CCA sending the county an invoice for the value. If a dispute arose about that amount, the two sides would agree to have an independent appraiser paid for by both sides set the value.

Maj. Michael Page, Sheriff Richard Nugent's new jail administrator, urged commissioners to settle the disputes.

"In 29 days it's going to be our responsibility to run the jail for the county,'' he said. In that short time, the county and CCA need to determine whether the facility will have beds or security cameras or kitchen equipment.

Even though funds have been set aside to pay for startup costs, Page told commissioners he doesn't know what to buy until they determine what belongs to the county. Double spending taxpayers' money made no sense, he said.

"I cannot operate it without the proper equipment and I cannot operate it without a sound structure,'' he said.

In a late afternoon e-mail, CCA official Natasha Metcalf expressed interest in seeing the county's latest proposed settlement and agreed the firm "will be in contact with you as soon as we have the opportunity to review it.''

Earlier in the meeting the commission briefly discussed the discrepancy between last year's formal jail budget and the amount requested by Nugent to run the jail in the coming year. Last year's budget was made artificially lower by figuring in a projected savings from implementation of an ankle monitoring program that never materialized.

Commissioner Jeff Stabins suggested that the extra $280,000 needed to fund the jail, which was the expected savings from the program, should be paid out of the money set aside for the judicial center since the program was the judiciary's responsibility.

No other commissioner would support the motion.

At the end of the meeting, County Judge Donald Scaglione questioned why commissioners thought it was the judiciary's responsibility to use a program that doesn't exist.

Druzbick explained that the commission was told that there was ongoing work to establish the program but, for whatever reason, it never happened. He suggested that Scaglione talk to the individual commissioner who made the comment.

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

Hernando County gives jail firm a deadline to settle inventory dispute 07/27/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 27, 2010 9:18pm]

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