Monday, April 09, 2007

Why I have been preoccupied-Or the Jail, the Commission and the Sheriff

As you read tomorrows newspapers you will see why I have been so preoccupied that I have blogged very little in the last two weeks. The County Manager, the County Commission and myself have been in a battle behind closed doors the last few weeks. Tomorrow that battle becomes a public spectacle. I may be just as much to blame that things got to this point. On the other hand I tried, tried and tried again to deal with these issues in a sane and rational manner. Each time I tried I only found myself facing a brick wall. Most of the time I found my back against that wall.

In the papers and on T.V. you will find all the rhetoric and allegations so I wont go much into them here. Here I will talk about the not so sensational things that got us into this mess. Years ago after dealing with private corporations running the jail and not doing a great job I pushed for the county to take over the jail. The time was right, private companies losing so much money in Santa Fe that companies either did not want to come here any longer or they wanted to charge so much money that the county finally had not only the fact that taking over was the right thing to do but they now had a financial reason. It was no longer cheaper to have a private company run the jail. I knew all along we needed to take over because the out of state prison companies could not run a local jail. They just did not care. So I pushed for the county to take over, the first six months showed remarkable improvements at the jail. Only medical was a constant problem. We were unable to hire and keep medical staff which stymied growth and meaningful change.

Then I first got an inkling things were going awry when around March of 2006 the County Attorney and then County Manager Gerald Gonzales asked for a meeting. They said the County wanted the Sheriff out of the chain of command in the Jail. When the county agreed to take over the jail the Corrections Director was placed under the Sheriff and the County Manager. This allowed the Sheriff to have the ability to have some input in issues at the jail. I did not agree to change this and I did not hear much else about this for a while.

In about May Annabelle Romero was brought in as a highly paid consultant to the jail. She was later moved up to Corrections Director. All without my input, prior to this I took part in hiring decisions on high level positions in corrections. When she was hired as a consultant a committee to review the applicants (at that time it was to be a contracted position and not a hired employee) which included the Under Sheriff, placed Annabelle Romero last of those interviewed as possible consultants. None the less she was hired as a full time highly paid employee. Once she was moved up to corrections director all cooperation and communication with the Sheriff's office ended. When I got calls from people with concerns or complaints about the jail I used to call then Corrections Director Greg Parish relay those concerns and they were always handled.

Now with Annabelle Romero as Corrections Director my phone calls were not returned, issues were not handled and it was not just me. Many of the calls I got were from community members, government entities and non-profits asking for help in getting calls returned and issues handled at the jail. Their calls were not getting returned either. I later learned that thousands of dollars were being stolen from inmates at the jail. Simple procedures devised by former Corrections Director Greg Parish and myself were no longer being followed. Crimes were going unreported at the jail for weeks. By the time my investigators were called the victims, witnesses and suspects were long gone from jail. Inmates were being releases that were not due to get out of jail yet.

I had meetings with the Corrections Director, the County Manager and County Attorney over these months that did no good. When prisoners were being released by mistake, and crimes went unreported I had to take more serious action. I began putting things in writing, recording conversations for evidence and pushing for the county to take action. The County Manager told me that Commissioners wanted me out of the loop at the jail. In a public vote at the time the county took over the jail the Corrections Director was put under myself and the County Manager. I told the County Manager that I felt that was still in effect. It was then that the County Commission decided to have a new vote which takes place tomorrow, to remove me from the chain of command at corrections. In other words kill the messenger.

Rather than deal with the problems at the jail they choose to deny the problems and get rid of the one who says there are problems. Some have told me I am better off and I should just let them remove me from oversight of the jail and then it will all be their headache. My thing is I pushed to have the county take over the jail and now I should just walk away and leave the taxpayers with this mess? Things were getting better before politics got involved and now the jail has never been this bad. If I am to be pushed out of Santa Fe County Corrections I need to go with a clear conscious. If I go quietly into the night I have no doubt nothing will change. The current Corrections Director is making very bad decisions and continuing the same types of public service that resulted in the loss of her law license years ago. Tomorrow is just day one in what I am sure will be a long few weeks if not months. One quote sticks in my mind.

‘All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing’

I have decided, I will not be that man....


Victor Lioce said...

Sheriff Solano: You have the right to speak your mind about the facts. You also have an obligation as sheriff to uphold the law. Problems with the county jail stemming from political issues have NO basis in your required ability to uphold the law. If the jail fails in spite of your attempts to do what is right and what is required by law, then the blame falls with those in the county administration who put political priorities ahead of the needs of the citizens, both outside and inside the jail. Hold your ground. Hold the county responsible and hold your head high! -Victor Lioce

Sheriff Greg Solano said...

Thanks for your support Victor, it is greatly appreciated.