ERWIN — In what served as more of an introductory meeting, Unicoi County officials and citizens heard from officials with the County Technical Advisory Service on Tuesday as they outlined what the agency will look at as it conducts a study of the operations of the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department.
Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch said the meeting and the CTAS analysis were the result of a previous discussion between him and Unicoi County Sheriff Kent Harris regarding the need for a study to analyze compliance and funding of the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department and the county’s jails. Lynch previously said this discussion came shortly after Harris sent a letter to Unicoi County Commissioners explaining his requests for approximately $800,000 in additional funding on top of the sheriff’s department’s regular operating budget. This funding was to be used for items such as hiring additional personnel and the purchase of new cruisers.
Terry Hazard, sheriff management consultant with CTAS, said the agency’s study would look at overall operations of the UCSD, with a particular focus on staffing at the department and the county’s jails. He said the study would point out what the department is doing right and wrong, and would offer recommendations on areas in which it could improve operations.
Hazard said CTAS is a non-regulatory agency, therefore it will be up to county officials to decide which, if any, of CTAS’s recommendations it will implement upon completion of the study.
“We come in and give you advice,” Hazard told Unicoi County Commissioners present at the meeting. “Take it or leave it, it’s free.”
Hazard also said there are several methods that could be used to study the UCSD’s staffing, and CTAS will determine the best method as it move along in its analysis.
Jim Hart, jail management consultant with CTAS, said the agency will also examine operations of the Unicoi County Jail and the recently opened jail workhouse, making recommendations just short of looking at new staffing.
“But when we get to that point where we, if we have to identify new positions, we’re able to demonstrate what we’ve tried to do, what we’ve changed as we’ve gone through the entire process before we get to that stage,” Hart said.
Hart said the study on the jails’ side would analyze not only staffing concerns but operations as a whole and would look at inefficiencies in operations, with a focus on employee work hours. The study also will take into account daily routines at the county’s jails, which include ancillary functions such as inmate recreation and food service, Hart said.
CTAS will work with the state to ensure that recommendations resulting from the study comply with state standards, Hart said. He also said the study would likely recommend the implementation of common correction practices that are not regulated by state standards.
Several commissioners and UCSD Chief Deputy Ronnie Adkins said they would also like to see the county’s 911 service, which falls under the umbrella of the UCSD, included in the study.
Hazard said Tuesday represents the first of several days CTAS officials will be in Unicoi County to gather information for the study, and Hart said the CTAS study would likely be completed in the next 30 to 45 days.