JASPER, Tenn. — For years, Jasper has used Marion County jail prisoners, known as trusties, to do various service jobs around town, especially in Jasper Park.
At the May meeting of the Jasper Board of Mayor and Aldermen, Mayor Paul Evans said he was notified recently by the town's liability insurance provider, the Tennessee Municipal League, that trusties or other community service workers would no longer be covered after June 1.
He said the policy change had been discussed by TML for over a year, and he was notified officially by phone and email.
City Attorney Mark Raines said there had not been any complaints or problems with Jasper's trusties, and he thinks TML's decision is a mistake.
"It's not just for us," Evans said. "It's every [municipality]. I hate to see it."
Raines said he is not aware of any claims filed with the insurance company from any municipality regarding the use of trusties or community service workers, but that could have been what prompted the change.
Alderman Paul "Mac" Bumpus asked if Jasper's premium would be lowered since its amount coverage was about to be lowered, too.
"I mean we've got less coverage than what we had," he said. "They ought to lower our premium."
"You know that's not happening," Raines replied, laughing. "I'm sure it didn't."
Over the years, he said the town's trusties had been "good folks" who had done "good work" around Jasper.
"They rebuilt some buildings, painted and cleaned up," Raines said. "I don't know what [Jasper Park workers] are going to do because [they] come over [to the jail] and get two or three [trusties] every morning. Something ought to be said about that."
Parks and Recreation Director Justin Baker said even with some extra part-time help the board voted to hire for the summer, losing the trusties' help is going to cause problems for needed projects at the park and other people won't be able to accrue needed community service hours by working there either.
Community service workers would have to find their hours with nonprofit organizations, Raines said.
It's possible TML could get enough negative feedback over the move to reverse the decision, he said, but until then, Jasper would have to abide by the policy change.
"I know it's helped the town and county quite a bit to have folks out there filling key service work," Raines said.
Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.