Marietta City Councilman Reggie Copeland is continuing to question whether it’s right to keep sending the city’s inmates to the Cobb County Adult Detention Center for another seven years.
The issue is being considered for a vote Wednesday.
Copeland raised the topic at Monday’s agenda work session, as the jail and Sheriff Neil Warren have come under fire from the American Civil Liberties Union and other groups over several recent deaths there.
Copeland’s argument was based not only on the conditions within the jail, but the frugality of housing people there as opposed to the city jails in Smyrna and Acworth.
Marietta Police Chief Dan Flynn said from the start of the year to the end of November, the city sent 250 people to the Cobb jail, five to Acworth, and 1,455 to Smyrna.
That’s because Smyrna offers lower rates — about $42 per prisoner per day in Smyrna compared to $73.90 at the county.
“So is there any reason why we wouldn’t just send them all to Smyrna?” asked Councilwoman Michelle Cooper Kelly.
The answer lies in a state law dictating how the city can spend money it collects through certain fines. Years back, the city increased the amount it charges in fees by 10%. According to Georgia law, the money raised through that extra 10% can only go to the sheriff’s office.
In other words, even if the city sends no prisoners to the Cobb County Adult Detention Center, it would still have to pay the money it collects from that 10% add-on to the sheriff’s office.
“We look at how much we are collecting in the 10% fine add-on that can only go to the sheriff’s office and we try to, as closely as possible, to match one with the other because nothing else can happen with that money, so we try to match it, but it’s not always perfect, but we get it as close as we can to save the city money,” Flynn said.
The original 20-year contract has been extended several times and is set to expire at the end of the year. The sheriff’s office wants the council to sign a new one.
Copeland said he wants to end the deal.
“For all the money to go to the Cobb County jail whether we use them or not is asinine to me,” he said.
“The only hope I see … is that we can cancel our contract in 60 days without cause and 30 days with cause, so I guess that’s a loophole for us,” he added.
The capability to exit the contract was not a part of the previous contract, said City Manager Bill Bruton.
That exit clause is new in the draft contract between the city and the county, which the City Council is set to vote on Wednesday.
City Manager Bill Bruton said that essentially means the contract would end when the city says it does.
“No matter how many years it is, it’s really 60 days,” he said. “It’s just 60 days at any time, whether it was a three-year contract or a 20-year contract, you can now get out in 60 days, where our 20-year contract previously, we didn’t have that ability at all, so it was 20 years locked in. This is pretty much almost an at-will contract.”
Other new changes include lowering the daily per-prisoner payment from the city to the sheriff’s office from $73.90 to $69 and shortening the term of the contract from 20 years to seven.
Chief Flynn told the council although the 10% can only go to the sheriff’s office, it’s up to the city to decide to keep charging it.
“I think it’s discretionary on us whether we continue to collect it,” he said. “In other words, we could say ‘we’re not going to collect that money anymore,’ and then we could pay for 100% of it out of operating.”
That would mean the city would not automatically pay the county whether it sent inmates there or not, but it would not necessarily solve all the issues either. Smyrna’s jail would likely not have the capacity to hold all of Marietta’s prisoners, which could mean the city could end up still paying to house inmates in the county jail but not receiving the 10% add-on to help cover it.
Mayor Steve Tumlin suggested passing the extension with the knowledge that they can cancel at any time.
“It’s December,” he said. “I don’t want to have a special called meeting on Dec. 31. If we could be cognizant of the 30- or 60-day dropout and express our concerns, those are our people if we send them or not, our fellow Cobb Countians, out there. That’s one consideration, just do it.”
After the meeting, Copeland attended a town hall hosted by the American Civil Liberties Union about the conditions in the jail, where he got up to speak.
“I’m Reggie Copeland, better known as Reggie Copeland the Game Changer, Ward 5 City Councilman, and want to make sure you come to the Marietta City Council meeting on this coming Wednesday,” he said. “Mrs. Bonner, Jeriene, I held it up tonight,” he said, referring to Cobb NAACP leaders Deane Bonner and Jeriene Grimes. “It takes a unanimous consent to get the contract renewed, I did not vote in favor of it. So you need to come and voice your opinion. … I don’t think we need to renew this contract, not because seven have died, but because one has died.”
In fact, it does not take unanimous consent to get the contract renewed, no vote was taken Monday night and though he did request the item be discussed at Wednesday’s meeting, Copeland voted in favor of creating a new contract between the city and the sheriff’s office when it came to committee meetings earlier this month.