Magistrate accused of bypassing committee protocol

Magistrate accused of bypassing committee protocol

August 18th, 2011 by Ansley Haman in News

Larry Ables, Hamilton County's chief magistrate.

Photo by Dan Henry/Times Free Press.

Document: Letter regarding staffing issues at Hamilton County Jail

Letter regarding staffing issues at Hamilton County Jail.

A letter from Hamilton County's chief magistrate to Sheriff Jim Hammond became the center of a heated exchange Wednesday at the county commission meeting.

In the letter, Larry Ables detailed concerns about staffing at the Hamilton County Jail. Some commissioners asked why Ables bypassed the commission's committee review process.

Ables, as part of his periodic Security and Corrections report to the commission, said he sent a letter to Hammond Tuesday, alerting him to what Ables said is an overworked and understaffed booking department at the jail. The commission appointed Ables and three other magistrates in October 2010 to expedite inmate bonding and help alleviate overcrowding at the jail.

The jail has a capacity of 487, but officials say it often exceeds that number and has for years.

"I see people languishing for hours waiting for their bond to be set because no one is available to bring them to the window," Ables wrote in the letter. "This is not an isolated event but a pattern which seems to be systemic."

At Wednesday's meeting, commissioners Greg Beck and Joe Graham asked why Ables brought the letter up in his periodic Security and Corrections report to the sheriff instead of sending it first to the commission's Security and Corrections Committee. The voices of all three men began to rise as the discussion continued and, at one point, Graham was almost yelling.

"I'm not clearly understanding where the issue is," Beck said. Ables said he thought he was following proper protocol by sending the letter to Hammond and copying commission Chairman Larry Henry and Security and Corrections Committee Chairman Mitch McClure.

Beck said that when he held the position of chairman of the Security and Corrections Committee, he wanted reports directed to him and he could, in turn, consult with the commission chairman.

"That's the way things have worked up here since I've been up here," said Beck, who has been on the commission since 2005.

Graham told Ables he should have followed long-standing protocol.

"You have to go through the proper channels," Graham said.

Henry referred the matter to the Security and Corrections Committee. McClure said the letter was the type that would have been taken up by his committee.

Hammond said the letter arrived at his office after he had gone home for the day Tuesday and he was only able to read it Wednesday before the 9:30 a.m. meeting. Hammond told commissioners he would address the concerns.

IN OTHER BUSINESS

The County Commission:

* Approved a green roof grant for the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department

* Approved Mayor Jim Coppinger's appointment of Mike Moon to the Water & Wastewater Treatment Authority Board of Commissioners

* Did not approve sale of farm-grown produce within Bonny Oaks Industrial Park