Candid email from Monroe County sheriff presses commissioners for more urgent approach to new jail cleanup position, other issues

“Try as I may, I cannot come to grips why this low-level position, a sheriff’s office employee, is of any interest at all for the commissioners, other than to fully support it.”

That’s one sentence of a 3,500-word email that Monroe County sheriff Ruben Marté addressed on Monday night to Penny Githens, president of the board of county commissioners.

The other two commissioners are Lee Jones and Julie Thomas. The email was sent to county commissioners and other members of the community justice response committee (CJRC), among others.

When The B Square asked Githens about Marté’s email at a Tuesday noon meeting of the Monroe County Democrats’ Club, she said she had not yet read through it.

The new low-level position will have the job title of “jail technician”—a member of the staff who would be responsible for cleaning and sanitizing the jail. The jail technician would also supervise inmates who work to clean the jail.

Based on his emailed message, it’s Marte’s view that the commissioners are slow-footing the process to create the new position of jail technician.

Molly Turner-King is the county attorney who has been tasked with hammering out the specific job description for the jail technician position, which is proposed at a salary of $50,000.

Turner-King told The B Square on Tuesday that a special meeting of the personnel administration committee (PAC) could be set for Friday, to settle on the wording of the job description. The PAC consists of county councilors Geoff McKim, Peter Iversen, and Marty Hawk.

If a special meeting is set for Friday, the notice will have to be posted by Wednesday, to meet the 48-hour requirement of Indiana’s Open Door Law.

The wording of the job description has to respect the statutory division of responsibility between the commissioners who have to “establish and maintain” the jail,  and the sheriff’s office, which has to “take care of the county jail and the prisoners there.

It’s possible that the commissioners, the county attorney, and the sheriff’s office could arrive at a consensus on the wording, without convening a special PAC meeting, Turner-King said.

At the PAC’s Feb. 7 meeting, the consensus was to approve the position of jail technician, but to ask the county legal department to work with the sheriff’s office to make some revisions to the job description.

The Feb. 7 meeting information packet for the PAC already reflected some edits to the job description.

Once the revisions were agreed on, the idea was to forward the job description directly to Waggoner, Irwin, and Sheele, Inc. (WIS)—which is the county’s HR consultant—without convening another PAC meeting.

WIS would have then incorporated the job description into the county’s job classification scheme, which is used to determine compensation. The full county council would have then voted on the new position, possibly as soon as the county council’s Feb. 14 meeting. But that timeline did not come to fruition.

In his Monday night email, Marté writes, “It appears the commissioners will effectively block this position from proceeding to WIS. I suppose that is their prerogative and will end the opportunity for us to engage in a fast-paced restoration of this facility to constitutional standards. That will not cost me, but instead cost the staff and the souls we house.”

Marté’s sent his Monday night email a couple hours after the conclusion of a contentious meeting of the community justice response committee (CJRC).  The meeting featured some verbal skirmishes between Marté and Githens.

The two had been at odds over whether the three-member board of commissioners had given Marté adequate support in his efforts to clean and sanitize the jail.

The friction between Marté and the commissioners has arisen at least in part in connection with the sheriff’s slide deck presentation, which was delivered at the Jan. 23 meeting of the CJRC.  The slides showed bad conditions  in the Monroe County jail.

The job of the jail technician position is supposed to help put the jail in a clean and sanitary condition, and to keep it that way.

In Marté’s Monday night email message, he writes, “[Y]ou admonished me regarding the [Jan. 23 CJRC presentation].” Marté continues, by writing that Githens had said the presentation “blindsided” the county commissioners.

Marté concludes, “It would certainly appear to me if the commissioners value transparency, there should be no feeling of being ‘blindsided’ by a simple presentation of facts. The photographs don’t lie.”

In his Monday night email message, Marté is sharply critical of the way he sees the attitude that county commissioners have shown towards the current conditions in the Monroe County jail. From his email:

In the fall of 2022, the Commissioners and I toured the Hamilton County Jail. Upon return, all were invited to tour the Monroe County jail. The only person to show up for the tour at our own jail was myself. Not one of the Commissioners were interested enough to take the tour and make themselves aware of the conditions of the very facility for which they have a duty to keep open for use and in good repair.

Marté also describes a recent situation that highlights the distinction between the duty of commissioners and the duty of the sheriff. The county’s contractor for jail building maintenance, which is the responsibility of the commissioners, not the sheriff, is David Gardner with ASI Facilities Services. From Marté’s Monday night email:

As ASI was working on a plumbing issue, a water line in the jail ruptured which caused a large amount of water to begin flooding the 4th floor. Immediately, Jail Commander [Kyle] Gibbons locked down the facility and deployed his entire staff to engage in controlling the flooding.

As a result, the flooding was controlled and caused no damage to the floors below. Was this encroachment upon the Commissioner’s responsibilities? We never said a word to anyone about our staff hopping to and assisting ASI although it detracted from our primary responsibilities. Why? Because we understand we are all working for the common cause of running the jail as best our combined efforts allow. There is no “fault” to be assigned to ASI for this incident.

Marté’s Monday night email also points to the current unsanitary conditions of the jail as posing a potential risk of MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), which is a hard-to-treat staph infection—it’s resistant to some antibiotics. Marté cites one case of MRSA at the jail and another possible case.

The potential for MRSA infections is part of the reasoning that Marté gives in his email message for grinding down the concrete floors of the jail and sealing the porous concrete.

Marté wraps up his Monday night email with a reference to the new jail technician position” “No matter what happens with this position, I will clean and sanitize this jail and bring it to a place where people are housed safely and humanely.”

He continues, “If the commissioners refuse to move in a timely manner and don’t wish to partner with us, to ensure the safety of staff and residents, then so be it.”

Marté adds, “The community expects a clean, safe, and humane jail facility, with or without your assistance.”

[Text of Feb. 20, 2023 email from Ruben Marté to CJRC members]

9 thoughts on “Candid email from Monroe County sheriff presses commissioners for more urgent approach to new jail cleanup position, other issues

  1. The County spends a lot more taxpayer money on the legal staff than they spend for a janitor that keeps the jail clean.

  2. When will Monroe County citizens wake up and realize these 3 old women do not care about this county. They have failed to follow the rules and be transparent on so many issues. Remember this when it’s time to vote.

  3. Monroe County Democrats. We can do better than than what our commissioners are delivering. The only thing they are passionate about is promoting payraises for themselves.

  4. Is the sheriff’s email available to the public? It sounds like it could be some interesting reading.

  5. If the Commissioners are insistent that they are in charge of the jail maintenance, then I guess they should be held directly responsible for the deplorable conditions that currently exist at the jail. I applaud Sheriff Marté for his efforts to make improvements to the jail and within the Sheriff’s Department as a whole. It seems that our Commissioners are obstructionists to just about every issue that comes before them. It’s time for all of them to go.

  6. Hooray to the new sheriff in town! Battling the mighty council is no small task. I applaud you Sir.

  7. I echo Teresa’s sentiments. This is one of many issues our county is battling with the commissioners. The time for change is upon us. Thank you Sheriff Marte for fighting the good fight. I support you.

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