CLEVELAND (WJW) – We’re learning more about Cuyahoga County Council putting its plans for a new jail facility on hold.
On Oct. 11, council announced that the group was postponing all decisions on a future facility until a new executive is elected.
Until then, the county had been moving forward on the plans to replace the aging justice center downtown.
Now, the FOX 8 I-Team has obtained a copy of the letter County Executive Budish and Council President Pernel Jones sent to top court officials, saying that delays in the project have cost taxpayers millions of dollars.
In the letter, the executive office says it is withdrawing from the Justice Center Project Executive Steering Committee for the following reasons:
“First, there is obviously a fatal disagreement over the role of the committee. It has always been an advisory committee. Yet, you apparently have a much different view, threatening to sue to ‘enforce’ the recommendations of the committee. The county officials cannot legally abdicate their role to you, nor will they.
“Second, any continuing committee will have to be restructured. The prosecutor has shown that he has an inherent conflict of interest. He is supposed to represent the county, yet he has taken very public positions adverse to the county executive and county council, and has taken action to sue the county. How can we go to the prosecutor for legal advice under these circumstances? In addition, it is time to know whether the City of Cleveland intends to stay in the Justice Center if a new one is built. Those items need to be determined before a new committee is formed.
“Third, you have called for us to delay any further action on the jail and Justice Center until a new executive comes into office. Even though we disagree, because further delays will continue to cost county taxpayers million of dollars, we have decided to delay further action. The next county executive and council can decide whether to use the steering committee and move forward.”
In the meantime, the executive office is calling on court officials to lower the jail population to help reduce the costs for the new jail.
“Your expert, DLZ, stated that the biggest driver of jail population is the average length of stay, mostly prisoners sitting and waiting for trial and plea,” the letter continued. “DLZ indicated that the current average length of stay in jail is ‘an extraordinarily long length of stay.'”
The letter went on to say that if court officials get prisoners to trial faster, it would cut jail population and “substantially cut the cost of the new jail.”
The I-Team has reached out to the prosecutor’s office and the court. Judge Brendan Sheehan released the following statement:
“Today I received a letter from Executive Budish and Council President Pernel Jones. This letter makes sweeping accusations and dismisses legitimate cost concerns and possible long-term health hazards over the push to build a new jail on an environmentally contaminated site. I will not waste time responding to finger-pointing or assigning blame over the now years-long effort to improve the Cuyahoga County Jail and Justice Center.
“However, I will say this: six members of a 12-person Steering Committee voted against the proposed property acquisition as a site for a new jail, and one member abstained from voting, after hearing the same analysis I heard. The determination—the county can do better.
“As Administrative Judge, I have enjoyed working with Executive Budish on the Steering Committee project and others, and I recognize his service to our county. I now look forward to all that will be accomplished in the coming years. As a court, we stand ready to work with the next County Executive on a jail project that best serves our taxpayers, the community and the justice system we are charged with helping oversee.”
Cuyahoga County Prosecutor O’Malley released a statement to FOX 8 Tuesday:
“Yesterday, I received a letter from Executive Budish and Council President Jones containing erroneous allegations in an attempt to over-shadow the cost concerns and potential long term health concerns that are associated with building a new jail on an environmentally contaminated site. Attempting to assign blame and acting without cooperation, is not effective and does not help aid with building a new jail that is best for the citizens of Cuyahoga County.
Executive Budish and Council President Jones stated there is an inherent conflict of interest between our office and they expressed concern with our office being able to provide the county and county council with legal advice. For this reason, our office obtained an order from the court approving the appointment of outside council. There is no conflict of interest.
As Cuyahoga County Prosecutor, it is my duty to serve the constituents that I was elected to represent. After hearing the same analysis that I heard, six members of the 12-member steering committee, with one member abstaining to vote, decided that we can do better than an environmentally contaminated site – and we need to do better.
I appreciate Executive Budish’s service to our county. I look forward to sitting down with the new county executive and assisting him with finding a parcel that is in the best interest of the individuals detained in the jail, the jail employees, and the citizens of Cuyahoga County.”