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Commission extends Sentinel probation contract

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The Augusta Commission agreed Tuesday to renew a contract with the probation firm Sentinel Offender Ser­vi­ces but held off on authorizing a $2.5 million loan to continue the Laney-Walker and Bethlehem revitalization until a city official returns with more answers about the project.

Commissioners peppered Chief State Court Judge Rich­ard Slaby with questions about Sentinel but refrained from arguing or insulting one another. Several of them made a revived call for decorum last week.

Sentinel has monitored probationers in Richmond Coun­ty State Court for 15 years but pulled out of Su­per­ior Court in Richmond and Columbia counties last year after lawsuits alleged the private firm was jailing clients, sometimes for extended periods, for nonpayment of fees that extended beyond charges imposed by the court.

Slaby said under the new contract, the four State Court judges are prepared to end the relationship with Sen­ti­nel if it becomes apparent the company is in the wrong.

“We don’t base our decision on allegations,” he said. “The probation company can do nothing more than the court orders them in that sentence.”

Among several issues raised by Commissioner Don­nie Smith was that of a case pending in California district court. According to court filings, Sentinel insurer Allied World Insurance Co. is seeking to deny coverage for claims filed against Sentinel in Richmond and Columbia counties and the reimbursement of defense costs the provider has already paid.

“This case has me concerned,” Smith said, though Slaby maintained the company has a policy in effect.

Smith also wanted information about monitoring fees imposed by Sentinel, which runs its own electronic monitoring service. Slaby said the fees range from $6 to $9 a day, plus a connection charge of $80 and the requirement that probationers have landline service. The fees, not tax dollars, help employ about 30 people to supervise about 5,800 probationers in Rich­mond County, he said.

Slaby said he had consulted an attorney about allegations that someone in State Court has a personal relationship with Sentinel. He said he’s received nothing from the company besides “serving this county” and leaving the courts in a better condition than before.

“For anybody to suggest that I have a pecuniary interest in this company … I’m trying to control my temper, but I’m not going to let it stand,” Slaby said.

Smith said he was “told by somebody at the county jail that Sentinel had 50 to 100 in the county jail” for nonpayment of Sentinel’s fees, which could total $900,000 annually.

“So then the burden is back on the taxpayer … They’re using the jail to collect their fines,” Smith said.

“I find it hard to believe that any probation officer or probation company could issue a warrant without the judge signing off on it,” Mayor Pro Tem Corey Johnson said.

Sentinel has relied on bench warrants to have probationers arrested since Su­per­ior Court Judge Daniel J. Craig issued a restraining order prohibiting enforcement of warrants sworn out by Sentinel staff.

A motion to approve the contract passed 7-3 with Smith, Mary Davis and Wayne Guilfoyle voting no. Davis and Guilfoyle said afterward that they wanted the matter returned to a committee for further discussion.

Laney-Walker questions

Commissioner Alvin Ma­son said he had questions about the funding mechanism the Laney-Walker and Beth­le­hem revitalization. The project, whose funding source is a 50-year, $750,000 annual allocation of hotel bed taxes, was part of a bargain to move forward with construction of the Augusta Convention Center.

Housing and Community De­vel­opment Director Ches­ter Wheeler was out of the country Tuesday, according to City Administrator Fred Russell. The group declined to question assistant director Hawthorne Welcher, who appeared in his place.

Rus­sell, who has had a key role in most of the project’s directives, said it has received national recognition, acquired much property and prompted another development by United House of Prayer, which operates a housing development organization next to the Laney-Walker houses.

“To establish that vision, I think we’ve hired some consulting people,” Russell said, and future funds could possibly be better spent “in bricks and mortar.” So far, $8 million has been spent and 18 houses built.

Mason’s questions included the amount of bonds the city expects to issue for the project, the amount of bond fees and interest, the amount of Housing and Ur­ban Development funds expended on the project; and what the project’s Web site means when it claims a “10 to one match” of private and public dollars, with names and amounts.

The city issued $8 million in bonds based on five years of hotel bed fee collections, which are guaranteed for 50 years, but spent the $8 million in three years.

Commissioner Bill Lock­ett called the questions “an outstanding list and definitely something we need to get answers to, but he hoped delaying the loan won’t jeopardize the project’s progress.

A motion to return to the “bridge loan” request after the questions are answered passed 6-4 with Lockett, Guilfoyle, Bill Fennoy and Marion Williams voting no.

Comments (9) Add comment
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corgimom
31535
Points
corgimom 09/04/13 - 04:09 am
4
2
“To establish that vision, I

“To establish that vision, I think we’ve hired some consulting people"

Doesn't he KNOW the answer to this? Isn't he SUPPOSED to know?

Truth Matters
6635
Points
Truth Matters 09/04/13 - 05:51 am
3
1
That was better...

Thanks to the writer for sticking to what was voted on, who voted, and how they voted. As a LTE suggested last week, I commend the writer for not injecting the race of the commissioners because it was not germane to the story. I only raise the point because I think it is fair to offer commendations when deserved, as well as criticism.

Thanks, Ms. McCord

truth_be_told
222
Points
truth_be_told 09/04/13 - 07:04 am
3
1
RACE

So we should interject it when it is "germane" but not in this instance when only right and wrong are involved????

GnipGnop
11935
Points
GnipGnop 09/04/13 - 08:37 am
2
3
The project, whose funding

The project, whose funding source is a 50-year, $750,000 annual allocation of hotel bed taxes, was part of a bargain to move forward with construction of the Augusta Convention Center. (bargain is commission code for bribe)
Housing and Community De­vel­opment Director Ches­ter Wheeler was out of the country Tuesday, according to City Administrator Fred Russell. The group declined to question assistant director Hawthorne Welcher, who appeared in his place. (why not? If he is getting a salary and he is there in the capacity of doing his job then by all means he should be answering questions!!)

So far, $8 million has been spent and 18 houses built. ( you are kidding right? 450,000 per house?)

Clemintime
190
Points
Clemintime 09/04/13 - 08:48 am
5
0
Commission Meeting Observation

For the sake of respect to fellow commissioners, public attendees, and county staff, all commissioners should come prepared with the knowlege of information discussed in previous meetings. Having been "absent from the last commission meeting" should not be an excuse to take thirty minutes (two minutes at a time) of commisssion meeting time to ask inane questions in effort to be brought up to speed.

Marion Williams please read above twice.

Little Lamb
45398
Points
Little Lamb 09/04/13 - 10:34 am
2
0
Chief State Court Judge

Chief State Court Judge Richard Slaby said, “The probation company can do nothing more than the court orders them in that sentence.”

That is a false statement, Judge Slaby. Shame on you, you know better. It has already been accepted into evidence in court here in Augusta that Sentinel provided a probationer an electronic monitoring device then charged the probationer the exorbitant fee to Sentinel to "monitor" him. When the probationer could not keep up payments on the monitoring fees, Sentinel sought and got a warrant for him and he was put in jail for not paying the fees. The man's attorney proved in court that the original court order for this man's probation included no requirement for electronic monitoring.

GnipGnop
11935
Points
GnipGnop 09/04/13 - 11:12 am
3
2
LL

Never let the truth get in the way of someone making money...you know that's how it works in Augusta...

Graymare
3047
Points
Graymare 09/04/13 - 03:11 pm
1
1
Gee, we're all shocked! "The

Gee, we're all shocked! "The Peter Principle is the principle that "in a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to their level of incompetence". www.princeton.edu

dichotomy
32190
Points
dichotomy 09/04/13 - 05:20 pm
3
1
Regardless of what Slaby

Regardless of what Slaby claims......FOLLOW THE MONEY. Two other courts say Sentinel sucks...... and lawsuits allege they abuse their power....and are crooked. Slaby wants to keep them. There is a lot of money involved....FOLLOW IT.

lsmith
105
Points
lsmith 09/04/13 - 07:52 pm
0
0
Sentinel is a bottom feeding
Unpublished

Sentinel is a bottom feeding outfit that needs to be recognized for what they are. Attorney Jack Long has been fighting to rid our area of this legalized extortion for years and it's time the Augusta Commission step up and give them the permanent boot. No private company should be in charge of probation services. When your business is collecting fees and fines from those who find themselves unable to pay for court ordered offences, their are bound to be conflicts of interests. Their interests is making money and it's been proven they use the jails to force payment. I'm not going to accuse Judge Slaby of anything improper other than being very misinformed and too trusting of Sentinel. Judge......it smells really bad and do you think Jack Long, arguably one of the most respected lawyers in this town could be so wrong? NO. He recognizes the wrongness and worked tirelessly to rectify it. Unfortunately, many in the courts are only too happy to turn a blind eye when it takes the load off their back. Shame on you all

soapy_725
43676
Points
soapy_725 09/05/13 - 08:19 am
0
0
5,800 probationers in Rich­mond County. A nice size gang
Unpublished

5,800 probationers in Rich­mond County. A nice size gang

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