Kat Stromquist had a good and comprehensive article in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette this morning on Pulaski County Judge Barry Hyde’s plan to impose huge fee increases on cities for housing prisoners in the county jail.
Pulaski is not the only, but the largest, county seeking to manage jail costs by making cities pay more.
This story has at least a couple of sides. The cities offloaded the cost of local lockups by working out a deal with the county years ago. They should pay something and do. But the cities think the county is now trying to exact too great a cost. A full hearing with competing accountants is in order.
But this is where another major part of the story comes in: Hyde seems to resent being questioned on his cost figures, sees a Quorum Court discussion on it a personal insult and generally seems to expect his decrees to be obeyed.
It is not the first time Hyde’s autocratic tendencies have been evident. You may remember his effort to ignore both state Constitution and law and take control of court probation officers. He argued juvenile offenders could be served better under a system he envisions. He be right. But his unwillingness to consider the judges’ statutory and constitutional control was a big part of the story. Intercession with the Quorum Court has led to something of a temporary workout of that issue. Perhaps that will occur in the matter of jail fees.
North Little Rock Mayor Joe Smith seems to be taking the lead in organizing city pushback to Hyde’s proposal, which would more than double Sherwood’s annual cost, for example, and add $1 million to Little Rock’s payment. Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott couldn’t be reached for comment in the article, though the jail bill has come up periodically in recent discussions about policy and other issues confronting the Little Rock City Board. The city isn’t exactly flush with money. A path to the “unity” theme that Scott espouses is, to date, not readily apparent in the jail cost debate.
Former County Judge Buddy Villines negotiated this issue more quietly during his long tenure, the article noted.
UPDATE: This afternoon, Fox 16 reported an apparent compromise. It said Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. and Hyde had reached a preliminary agreement that would give cities a 25 percent cost increase in 2020 and negotiations would continue to negotiate on a permanent contract. This deal will postpone a plan by mayors to take their concern to the Quorum Court this week, Fox 16 reported.
25 percent is a substantial cut from Hyde’s original plan. He first proposed raising Little Rock’s payment by more than $1 million, better than a 50 percent increase, according to figures in the Democrat-Gazette this morning.