Editor’s note: Local mayors submitted this open letter to the Grays Harbor County Commissioners to run as a reader opinion. Monday afternoon county officials submitted a draft jail contract to the mayors. See a related news story on today’s front page.
To Commissioners Herb Welch, Terry Willis and Mike Wilson,
This communication is in regard to the ongoing issue surrounding negotiating a new contract for misdemeanor jail services with Grays Harbor County on behalf of cities. As the elected mayors, we are beyond frustration with the egregious lack of communication and demonstrated unwillingness to work with the cities to secure ongoing county jail services for our communities.
What is more disheartening is this has been demonstrated not by words, but by action — or lack of action — by the county.
The respective police chiefs initially received notification of a change in the jail services contract on Friday, May 18, via email, with no prior communication to the chiefs, mayors or city administrators. There was no prior indication the county needed or intended to revise the misdemeanor jail contract, the most recent version in place since 2002.
The initial contract termination letter provided 60-day notice. As the cities scrambled to respond to this change, our legal advisers discovered state law required a 90-day notice.
The mayors were present and represented at a County Commissioner meeting on Monday, May 21, expressing our frustration with the lack of communication regarding this process. The county commissioners acknowledged the statutory requirement for 90-day notice and issued another termination notice, the effect of which would stop all misdemeanor jail service to the cities as of Oct. 25, 2012.
The mayors’ group sent a memorandum to the commissioners on Aug. 8, and after months requesting an opportunity to meet and communicate on the issue, we subsequently met on , Aug. 23, at Montesano City Hall to negotiate a new services contract.
During this meeting, both the county’s representatives (Commissioner Terry Willis, Prosecutor Stew Menefee, Sheriff Mike Whelan and Undersheriff Rick Scott) and the cities’ delegation had the opportunity to discuss various aspects of the existing contract and the first new proposed contract submitted by the county.
We tentatively agreed to retain the existing contract relating to misdemeanor prisoners, with a change in the daily jail rate and an annual inflationary increase. We also requested the new contract provisions be delayed until the New Year so the cities could budget for the change.
Despite offers by the cities, County Prosecutor Stew Menefee insisted upon updating the old contract with the new provisions before sending out the draft to the cities for review. At the end of the negotiation, we all coordinated our calendars and set the next negotiation date for Sept.7.
The negotiation committee was very pleased with the progress made during the meeting as it seemed to address the concerns raised by the county while at the same time securing misdemeanor jail services for the cities. We agreed the issue of city reimbursement for felony inmate medical expenses would be dealt with in another forum.
The purpose of this contract was for misdemeanor city prisoner services only.
At a mayor’s meeting on Aug. 30, the negotiation committee updated the cities as to the progress of the contract. We assured the cities that each mayor and city attorney should soon be receiving a draft jail contract from the county for our review and approval from the county. Although the cities were negotiating as a group, each jail contract would have to be reviewed and approved by each city council and mayor.
On Sept. 6, we finally received a draft jail contract from Stew Menefee, in a computer format that most could not open. We were subsequently informed that the document disseminated was not correct and the corrected version was forthcoming. At that point, the city delegation group was forced to cancel the meeting on the 7th since the cities never received a draft contract to review for consideration.
As a group, we were frustrated that the process and negotiation as agreed upon by the county was apparently not taken in good faith. Although verbal assurances were made that the county was more than willing to work with the cities, the lack of action regarding the jail contract continued for another 18 days with no communication and no contract draft.
On Monday, Sept. 24, Cosmopolis Mayor Vickie Raines appeared before the county commission expressing a desire to close the loop on this issue. She requested that since nearly five weeks had passed, the county provide a contract for discussion by the cities. Commission Chairwoman Terry Willis asked when the cities wanted the draft. On behalf of the cities, Mayor Raines requested the draft be provided by Friday, Sept. 28, 2012, at 10 a.m.
When negotiating between parties, the work should be done in good faith with a desire to reach a conclusion mutually acceptable to both. The cities are simply asking for this courtesy and professionalism. In the end, this responsibility rests with the county commissioners as the legal contract representatives of the county. The lack of action rests with the commission chairwoman, Terry Willis.
The urgency of this dilemma has been artificially and perhaps intentionally created by the termination of the contract by the county- followed by the county’s failure to negotiate in good faith in a timely manner.
Therefore, as of Oct. 25, 2012, in addition to failing to properly fund the county jail in the first place, the county commissioners are apparently willing to refuse service to the cities in housing domestic violence arrests, DUI offenders and others who threaten our public safety. If this is yet another example of “improving communication between the county and the cities” as cited by Commissioner Willis, we are dismayed.
At this juncture, we feel the contract termination should be extended to December 31, 2012, with the hope the county will commit to working with the cities to establish a new misdemeanor jail services contract to be in place by January 1, 2013. We hope to establish another meeting date once the draft contract is submitted to us.
The Undersigned Mayors of Grays Harbor
Bill Simpson, Aberdeen
Vickie L. Raines, Cosmopolis
Dave Osgood, Elma
Jack Durney, Hoquiam
Ken Estes, Montesano
Crystal Dingler, Ocean Shores
Michael Bruce, Westport
Gary Dent, McCleary