By Joel Hall
The Clayton County Board of Commissioners (BOC) voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a $250,000 expenditure to pay for the first wave of substantial repairs to the Clayton County Jail.
The repairs, expected to total $575,000 over four months, include resurfacing the jail's kitchen floor, replacing water-damaged ceiling tiles, water proofing and resurfacing all 144 of the jail's showers, and making plumbing and air conditioning improvements.
In the same session, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, a national civil rights leader, appeared before the commissioners, urging the county to move faster on creating public transportation alternatives for residents left stranded by the closure of the C-TRAN bus service.
Clayton County Chief of Staff Alex Cohilas told commissioners Tuesday that the jail, built in November of 2000, was in need of several major repairs to address loose and cracked floor tiles in it's kitchen and leaking showers that are causing damage to the jail's drywall.
"This building is a little more than 10 years old, so there is some normal wear and tear that needs to be addressed," Cohilas said. "They include a significant amount of repairs in the kitchen area and an almost equal amount of repairs in the shower areas. The original flooring in the kitchen, that is all going to be removed and replaced with a solid-body floor. There are many waterproofing needs [in the showers] that need to be addressed. Over time, water has leaked, and we've had some problems with it damaging the sheetrock on the ceiling. We're going to purchase new kitchen equipment, many energy-efficient kitchen supplies, which will allow the sheriff's office to more adequately service the prison population."
Cohilas said that many of the tiles in the jail's kitchen that have become loose or cracked, could, potentially, be used as weapons by inmates. He said a solid, poured floor that the county intends to install in the kitchen and the showers, will increase safety, and decrease maintenance time and costs.
In addition to the repairs, the county will spend $30,000 to rent a temporary kitchen to prepare inmate meals. According to Cohilas, the temporary kitchen will sit in the parking lot of the Harold R. Banke Justice Center, and meals will be taken into the jail while the kitchen repairs are being done.
Cohilas said the initial $250,000 outlay will come out of the county's fiscal 2010 budget, and the remaining $325,000, will come from the county's fiscal 2011 budget, beginning July 1. Repair work will begin in two weeks, he said.
Since the elimination of the county's C-Tran bus service on March 31, public outcry against the BOC had subsided. Jackson, who spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting, however, said the county was in a "state of emergency," because of the loss of C-TRAN. He urged the county to embrace bus, light rail, trains, and other public transportation options.
"I was here about a month ago and met with people who were on dialysis, and no longer had a way to the hospital, students who could not get to work," Jackson said. "This is a crisis. We, as Americans, can make the steel, we can lay the rail, we can build trains and buses -- if we want to ... and put America back to work. There is an industrial component to this ... There is an environmental component to this."
After two minutes of commentary, Jackson was cut off by the board, as per the county's rules limiting the length of public comment. Jackson asked for an extension of his time, but Commissioner Wole Ralph put forth a motion to end Jackson's comments. It carried 4-1, with BOC Chairman Eldrin Bell opposed.
Some of those in attendance saw the board's actions as an insult to a civil rights legend, particularly State Rep. Roberta Abdul-Salaam (D-Riverdale). The legislator was recently successful in passing legislation, which would ultimately allow the county to create a one-cent sales tax to fund public transportation.
"Shame, shame, shame ... how dare you," said Abdul-Salaam. "Black people didn't hold seats in this country until the work of people like Rev. Jesse Jackson, Martin Luther King, Coretta Scott King. We didn't even have the right to vote. It's an absolute embarrassment."
Following Jackson's comments, he said the board was too focused on "ending the discussion," rather than "addressing the problem.
"It should be a priority, because it is an emergency," Jackson said. "The people who didn't put this on the agenda, each have a car. Those who voted to stop discussion, all have a car. It is not a responsible thing to do, to leave people in this predicament. The people have an obligation to rise up and demand a board that is responsive to their real emergency needs."
Bell said the board has not had a chance to utilize recent transportation legislation, and that the board still has a chance to use the legislation to support a move toward restoring some form of public transit.
"You can't call the board unfair before its had an opportunity to act." Bell said. "The board has not had an opportunity to act on the governor's bill, and won't before the governor signs it."