Video visitation, lobbyist top Hamilton County Commission agenda

Video visitation, lobbyist top Hamilton County Commission agenda

January 9th, 2014 by Louie Brogdon in Local Regional News

ALSO WEDNESDAY

In other business commissioners:

Considered accepting a $24,886 contract with Insight Public Sector to upgrade 125 patrol laptops and 75 desktops in the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office to Windows 8 Professional. The current computers run an older version that soon will be unsupported.

Discussed a $62,817 contract with Adman Electric to install fire alarm and security upgrades for the Juvenile Court Child Support Services building.

Considered accepting a $585,700 contract with Helton Construction to build a new emergency services vehicle garage.

Considered amending the Hamilton County Employee Handbook to prohibit county employees from using cellphones while driving county vehicles. Law enforcement and emergency personnel would be exempt from the proposed rule.

The Hamilton County Commission met Wednesday after a six-week holiday break with plenty of county business to mind.

Along with hearing a laundry list of routine purchases, commissioners during an agenda session heard more about a Web-based video visitation system for the jail, considered keeping its paid lobbyist in Nashville and stepped out for a 20-minute, closed-door legal meeting.

The commission will vote on the issues next week during its regular meeting.

The security and corrections committee heard a plan last week to hire Tampa, Fla.-based EdgeAccess to run an online video visitation system for the county jail. Wednesday was the finance committee's turn to hear the proposal.

The program would allow residents to sign on to their computers at home and virtually visit inmates in the county jail at a charge of 60 cents a minute. In-person visitation would still be free to residents.

Commissioners Wednesday voiced some concerns about controlling the content of video visitations - and some questioned whether they had a right to censor communication coming from someone's home into the jail.

Commissioner Warren Mackey questioned the county's ability to limit the First Amendment rights of people virtually visiting the jail.

And Marty Haynes, who supports the plan, also said the commission was "walking into a murky area with [online] visitations."

But County Attorney Rheubin Taylor said he's reviewed the plans and the contract with EdgeAccess and doesn't foresee any serious legal issues. He said it's up to the sheriff's department to ensure the visitation guidelines are followed online and in person. And sheriff's deputies can simply cut off video feeds if they become lewd or prohibited.

Robert Veschi, president of EdgeAccess, told commissioners that inmates typically learn the rules of video visitation by week two. Inmates who get inappropriate video chats from loved ones lose their visitation privileges. And word travels fast, he said.

"Within the first week, it happens. But what probably doesn't resonate with the general public is things that happen to inmates on Floor 1 get up to Floor 8 in a matter of minutes," Veschi said.

The commission also heard a proposal to keep paying the county's Nashville lobbyist, Will Denami, who is paid $20,000 for the legislative session. Taylor said the contract is identical to Denami's current arrangement. The commission supported the proposal Wednesday.

Immediately after the agenda session, commissioners adjourned for a 20-minute legal meeting. Taylor did not comment on specifics of the meeting, but said their may be agenda items related to it in the future.

Contact staff writer Louie Brogdon at lbrogdon@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6481.