At press time, Tulsa County officials faced a difficult dilemma in their year-long dispute with City of Tulsa officials over a new contract for joint operation of the David L. Moss Criminal Justice Center (the Tulsa County jail) and several city facilities. The old agreement, extended to allow time for mediation, expired at the end of November.
The choice is whether to accept the City's financial terms or fight an aggressive lawsuit from the City charging Sheriff Stanley Glanz as an individual with intentionally damaging the contractual relationship between the City and the County and charging the Tulsa County Commissioners as officials with misspending jail operations sales tax funds.
Mediation between the two sides broke down a few days before Thanksgiving, with the City asserting that the jail should continue to house, as it has since 1998, a certain number of city inmates at no charge, in consideration for the sheriff's use of the city-owned Juvenile Detention Center, the Lakeside residence, and the city's sally-port and holding facility to get prisoners to and from the County Courthouse.
The County insists that the City should pay for every municipal prisoner, including those who have both state and city charges pending.
The day before Thanksgiving at 4:30 in the afternoon, a letter from Sheriff Glanz was hand-delivered to the City Attorney's office, giving notice that as of December 1, he will charge the City of Tulsa $213.20 for each person the Tulsa Police Department books into the jail, a "daily per diem" [sic] of $54.13, a fee of $5.73 to transport a TPD inmate to municipal court, and a fee of $81.40 per 4 hours to guard an inmate at municipal court.
Glanz provided no exemption for prisoners that TPD would book into jail on state charges. The bill to the City could approach $10 million a year, not counting any medical costs for prisoners booked by TPD, which the sheriff demands the City cover as well.
That Friday, in the midst of the four-day holiday weekend, attorney Joel Wohlgemuth, representing the City, sent a reply to Assistant DA David Iski, calling Glanz's proposed charges "predatory and unilateral" and "a transparent effort to steamroll the process and single-handedly change the agreement made with the citizens of Tulsa on the perpetual jail tax which was passed by the voters."
Wohlgemuth wrote that Glanz "has no authority to unilaterally change the agreement with the taxpayers and the public vote by charging fees never before imposed upon the City of Tulsa for booking, processing, transportation, and guarding of prisoners, and attempting to charge cities with costs for prisoners on state charges- essentially double dipping from the taxpayers. His monopolistic behavior shows blatant disregard for the people who are truly footing the bill, the citizens."
Wohlgemuth demanded that Glanz retract his letter or face a lawsuit.
Last week, on December 4, Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor made a final settlement offer to the County Commissioners and Glanz. The City's offer agrees to the same rate the County charges the Oklahoma Department of Corrections (ODOC). The County has adopted a rate of $54.13 per municipal prisoner per day, three times the rate under the old contract.
The old contract allowed the City up to 116 municipal prisoners per day in consideration for the County's use of the city-owned facilities. Taylor's offer reduces that number to 35, averaged over a year.
Doing the math, 35 municipal prisoners per day on average over 365 days at the sheriff's demanded rate would amount to $691,510.75.
The city insists that the common-sense definition of "municipal prisoner" remain in place. That definition has been in use for at least 20 years and was specified in the previous contract. The presence of a municipal traffic citation doesn't alter the sheriff's responsibility to detain those who have state charges pending in district court.
The unintended consequence of changing the definition as the county is demanding -- so that a state prisoner becomes a municipal prisoner if any municipal charges are pending, even if there are far more serious state charges -- will be that cities and towns simply drop all municipal charges on those they book into the county hoosegow.
In exchange for the municipal prisoner allowance, the City will continue to allow the sheriff to use the sally-port and holding area in the city's Police Courts building for prisoners being transported to and from the courthouse, the Lakeside residential center and the juvenile detention center. The offer puts the market rental rate of the latter two facilities at $400,680. No value is assigned to the sally-port and holding area, but it would cost the County millions to reproduce those facilities within the County Courthouse.
The letter points out that $17.5 million of the jail tax's annual $23 million in revenue is raised through sales within the city limits of Tulsa.
Taylor's letter reminds the county that their contracts with the city for the city to provide body shop and car wash facilities and 911 services to the county have expired and that they will need to renegotiate those contracts separately.
Taylor's settlement offer was to be open until close of business, Monday, December 8.
If the County says no, the City is ready to go after County officials with both barrels.
Sheriff Glanz would be sued not only in his official capacity, but as an individual. A draft petition charges Glanz with a "scheme to hoard revenues at the taxpayer's expense" and describes him as "seeking to charge unlawful and excessive fees."
As an individual, Glanz would be charged with tortuous interference with contract for his "effort to convince the County and the Board of Commissioners to charge the City substantial jail operating costs."
In effect, the city is claiming that Glanz is using this contract renewal to extract money out of the taxpayers' pockets for jail expansion without going to the voters for approval. The city is asking for "exemplary and punitive damages" -- a sufficiently stiff penalty to "render the consequences of his conduct an example to himself."
The County Commissioners would be charged with not negotiating in good faith--violating the statutory and constitutional provisions requiring the county to spend money raised by a sales tax for its designated purpose.
The City is also demanding a full accounting of jail expenses and revenues, whether from sales taxes, payments from city, state, and federal governments or payments from inmates. The City claims that the Sheriff's Office has accrued a surplus of over $4 million since resuming operation of the jail two years ago, and there's no justification for an additional fee.
In the draft petition, the City reserves the right to come back later and charge the county commissioners with fraud, misrepresentation, breach of fiduciary duty, and breach of public trust.
This has gone on long enough. The City has made a reasonable settlement offer which includes some significant concessions. Tulsa residents (69 percent of the Tulsa County population) are already paying more than their fair share of jail costs (76 percent of sales tax revenue). There's enough of a surplus to allow money to be put back for jail improvements and expansion.
Let's hope Tulsa County officials see sense and agree to meet the City halfway, so that the two sides can get on with the business of keeping the bad guys off the streets.
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