Monroe County’s jail is located on the top floors of the Charlotte Zietlow justice center.
Monroe County jail commander Kyle Gibbons (Nov. 28, 2023)
Monre County chief deputy sheriff Phil Parker (Nov. 28, 2023)
County commissioners Penny Githens and Julie Thomas with county attorney Jeff Cockerill (Nov. 29, 2023)
Chief deputy sheriff Phil Parker in front of the Monroe County council (Nov. 28, 2023)
Foreground: county councilor Peter Iversen and commissioner Penny Githens. Background from left: Chief deputy Phil Parker, sheriff Ruben Marté, and jail commander Kyle Gibbons (Nov. 27, 2023)
Just before the Thanksgiving holiday, a rough patch was hit on the road to a new jail for Monroe County.
A disagreement emerged between the sheriff and county commissioners over the funding of someone to direct the transition—from the current jail at 7th Street and College Avenue to a new facility. No location has been decided for a new jail.
Even if the rough patch did not get smoothed out, it’s now in the rear-view mirror.
On Wednesday, Monroe County commissioners approved a change to their ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) plan to include $110,000 a year for three years to fund a contract for someone to serve as director of the jail transition. Of the amount, $10,000 is to cover liability insurance.
It might be next year before all parties have signed an interlocal agreement between Bloomington and Monroe County—in connection with an expansion of the Monroe Convention Center.
The effort to get final consensus on a collaboration between city and county leaders about a convention expansion dates back several years, before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
But two weeks ago, both branches of Bloomington’s government approved the interlocal agreement, for the operation of the capital improvement board (CIB) and the convention and visitors commission (CVC)—in connection with the convention center expansion.
Bloomington mayor John Hamilton inked the interlocal on the afternoon of Nov. 15. The city council followed suit that evening, with an uncontroversial vote to approve the interlocal agreement.
The county council and the county board of commissioners were expected to consider and approve the agreement this week.
But the item appeared on Tuesday night’s county council meeting agenda only as a discussion item. And that’s where it remained for Tuesday. No vote was taken, even though councilors expressed a fair amount of solid support for the agreement.
At its regular meeting last Wednesday, Bloomington’s city council approved its side of the interlocal agreement that will control the working relationship among local government entities as they collaborate on an expansion of the Monroe Convention Center.
The vote was 8–0. Kate Rosenbarger was absent.
Signing the agreement earlier in the day on Wednesday was Bloomington mayor John Hamilton. That wraps up the city of Bloomington’s side of the arrangement.
At their regular Wednesday morning meeting, Monroe County commissioners approved two additional studies of the Thomson PUD property, which is currently being considered as a potential new jail site.
A Phase 2 environmental study, as well as a wetlands delineation, are both to be done by VET Environmental Engineering, for a total of about $20,000.
Even if commissioners have stressed that no decision on a future new jail site has been made, those two studies mark a bit of progress towards the eventual construction of a new jail to replace the facility at 7th Street and College Avenue. The current jail has been analyzed by a consultant as failing to provide constitutional levels of care.
Not getting any airtime at the commissioners meeting on Wednesday was significant discord that has emerged between the sheriff’s office and the commissioners—about filling a position to direct the transition to a new jail facility.
But that discord looks like it could be on a schedule for some kind of resolution, starting with a joint meeting of the county commissioners and the county council on Monday, Nov. 27.
At the county council’s Tuesday night meeting, council president Kate Wiltz looked to the end of the month as a timeframe for resolving the sore points.
As a chance to work through some concerns and possibly get a transition director’s contract approved, Wiltz pointed to already scheduled meetings on three successive days—Nov. 27 (joint), Nov. 28 (county council), and Nov. 29 (county commissioners).
Giving the pitch was John Bates, who is the business manager for UA Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 136, which has locations in Evansville, as well as a training facility in Bloomington, on Bloomfield Road.
Misty James, reentry mentor a support specialist with New Leaf New Life
County council president Kate Wiltz
Bloomington mayor John Hamilton
County councilor Jennifer Crossley
Jordan McIntire, executive director of New Leaf New Life
July 3, 2023 JFAC meeting
At a Monday committee meeting, a general consensus seemed to emerge: More money needs to be spent on programs for people who are incarcerated at Monroe County’s jail, so that after release, the path back to their communities is easier.
Wiltz, along with councilors Jennifer Crossley and Peter Iversen, were joined by several non-voting members of the committee. Among others, they included Bloomington mayor John Hamilton, city councilmember Isabel Piedmont-Smith, county commissioner Julie Thomas, and Misty James, who is a reentry mentor and support specialist with the nonprofit New Leaf New Life.
The unanimous vote to create the justice fiscal advisory committee (JFAC)—consisting of three county councilors and 12 other ex officio members—came at the council’s regular meeting on Tuesday. The ex officio members don’t count towards the number needed for a quorum.
The word “fiscal” in the name of the new committee that has been formed by the county council reflects the fact that the council is the county’s fiscal body.
Any funding for a new jail facility would have to be approved by the seven-member county council, no matter what decisions are made by the three county commissioners about the location and size of a new jail facility.
Late Wednesday afternoon, Monroe County sheriff Ruben Marté released an update on efforts to clean up the jail facility.
The emailed update was sent to county councilors, county commissioners, members of the community justice response committee, and several other community members.
The update included a link to several before-after photos of: J Block, which is the jail’s new mental health dormitory; the intake room; and the sally port, which is where prisoners are taken into the jail.
Monroe County facilities director Richard Crider addresses county commissioners on March 8, 2023.
Monroe County commissioners from left: Lee Jones, Penny Githens, and Julie Thomas.
The final decision has not been made, but DLZ is likely to be the firm that Monroe County uses to master plan and design a new jail facility.
At a Wednesday morning work session, Monroe County commissioners received a brief report from a committee that they created to review three responses to a request for qualifications (RFQ), to master plan and design a new jail.
DLZ was the company recommended by the committee. The other two responses came from Elavatus and RQRAW.
Monroe County director of facilities Richard Crider delivered the committee’s recommendation to the commissioners. About the three companies who responded, Crider said, “They are all very capable and proficient in what they do. And I believe we all felt like any one of them could provide a facility that meets our needs.”
But it was DLZ that got the committee’s nod: “One firm stood out above the rest and that was DLZ.” Crider added, “DLZ was the unanimous decision of the committee.”
Joining Crider on the RFQ review committee were: David Gardner, ASI Facilities Services contractor; Lee Baker, county attorney; Kyle Gibbons, jail commander; Matt Demmings, assistant jail commander; and Angie Purdie, administrator for the commissioners.