published Thursday, August 18th, 2011

Magistrate accused of bypassing committee protocol

Larry Ables, Hamilton County's chief magistrate.
Larry Ables, Hamilton County's chief magistrate.
Photo by Dan Henry /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
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Letter regarding staffing issues at Hamilton County Jail
Letter regarding staffing issues at Hamilton County Jail
Audio clip

Hamilton County Commission meeting - August 17, 2011

A letter from Hamilton County's chief magistrate to Sheriff Jim Hammond became the center of a heated exchange Wednesday at the county commission meeting.

In the letter, Larry Ables detailed concerns about staffing at the Hamilton County Jail. Some commissioners asked why Ables bypassed the commission's committee review process.

Ables, as part of his periodic Security and Corrections report to the commission, said he sent a letter to Hammond Tuesday, alerting him to what Ables said is an overworked and understaffed booking department at the jail. The commission appointed Ables and three other magistrates in October 2010 to expedite inmate bonding and help alleviate overcrowding at the jail.

The jail has a capacity of 487, but officials say it often exceeds that number and has for years.

"I see people languishing for hours waiting for their bond to be set because no one is available to bring them to the window," Ables wrote in the letter. "This is not an isolated event but a pattern which seems to be systemic."

At Wednesday's meeting, commissioners Greg Beck and Joe Graham asked why Ables brought the letter up in his periodic Security and Corrections report to the sheriff instead of sending it first to the commission's Security and Corrections Committee. The voices of all three men began to rise as the discussion continued and, at one point, Graham was almost yelling.

"I'm not clearly understanding where the issue is," Beck said. Ables said he thought he was following proper protocol by sending the letter to Hammond and copying commission Chairman Larry Henry and Security and Corrections Committee Chairman Mitch McClure.

Beck said that when he held the position of chairman of the Security and Corrections Committee, he wanted reports directed to him and he could, in turn, consult with the commission chairman.

"That's the way things have worked up here since I've been up here," said Beck, who has been on the commission since 2005.

Graham told Ables he should have followed long-standing protocol.

"You have to go through the proper channels," Graham said.

Henry referred the matter to the Security and Corrections Committee. McClure said the letter was the type that would have been taken up by his committee.

Hammond said the letter arrived at his office after he had gone home for the day Tuesday and he was only able to read it Wednesday before the 9:30 a.m. meeting. Hammond told commissioners he would address the concerns.


The County Commission:

* Approved a green roof grant for the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department

* Approved Mayor Jim Coppinger's appointment of Mike Moon to the Water & Wastewater Treatment Authority Board of Commissioners

* Did not approve sale of farm-grown produce within Bonny Oaks Industrial Park

about Ansley Haman...

Ansley Haman covers Hamilton County government. A native of Spring City, Tenn., she grew up reading the Chattanooga Times and Chattanooga Free Press, which sparked her passion for journalism. Ansley's happy to be home after a decade of adventures in more than 20 countries and 40 states. She gathered stories while living, working and studying in Swansea, Wales, Cape Town, South Africa, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Ga., and Knoxville, Tenn. Along the way, she interned for ...

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riverstronghold said...

Protocol is important, and doubtless needs/needed discussion.

But what about the issue that brought up the conversation?

That issue (concerns about jailers' staffing levels and apparent overworking, which becomes a safety issue for both staff and inmates)seems lost in the concerns about who gets to talk about it when and with whom. Seems it deserves at least equal time.

The public is less concerned about the protocol of how the conversation is held than the issue and outcomes of the underlying and original concerns.

Unfortunately it ends up looking like egos and public exposure worries rather than public service concerns in the spirit of safety, transparency, and excellence. Doubtless not the case, but that's how it ends up looking.

August 18, 2011 at 6:12 a.m.
Salsa said...

If Beck doesn't understand what the issue is then he is clearly unfit for office.

August 18, 2011 at 11:48 a.m.
harrystatel said...

Good for you Mr. Ables. But next time, be sure that McClure, Henry and Graham get their reach-around first. Must take care of the petty politician's protocol.

August 18, 2011 at 4:52 p.m.
retired said...

Mr. Ables did a good thing and I was told Greg Beck was a Jailor at one time but got lucky when Old man Cotton went to jail. Greg Beck needs to be replaced because his comments always are "Racial" and he has no clue. We need someone else in our area that has a true concern and not just to make himself look good. You don't Greg.

October 13, 2011 at 9:08 a.m.
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