Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

June 29, 2014

State DOC challenging McDowell Commission

WELCH — The McDowell County Commission is facing a major challenge with the state Division of Corrections concerning its operations of the Stevens Correctional Center. In addition to the DOC, McDowell County Clerk Don Hicks has filed a petition for a writ of mandamus, seeking the restoration of funds in the county budget to cover the expense of hiring more employees to perform work for the corrections center.

The DOC stated in a June 10 letter to the commission that: “Over the period of time that the county has been operating the facility, there have been many problems with the operations at the facility, the care of inmates and the discipline of staff,” according to the letter from Jim Rubenstein, DOC commissioner. “WVDOC has been hopeful that those issues would be resolved, but unfortunately, they have not been.”

Specifically the DOC, a division of the state Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, stated in the letter that inmates have had to wait over a period of months for x-rays; that medical orders are not being signed; that the treating physician isn’t insured; along with improper documents being filed in response to inmate grievances.

The letter also states several issues involving staff members who are not following WVDOC police directives. According to the letter, the center’s inmate visitation coordinator was seen taking money from the girlfriend of an inmate in the parking lot moments after he met with an inmate. In addition, the letter indicates that the center has not updated most of its operational policies.

“WVDOC has no recourse but to demand that the county immediately rectify the situation in whole and to immediately invoke the liquidated damages section of the contract,” according to the letter. The letter itself is only two pages, but there are an additional 11 pages containing lists of specific deficiencies and breaches as well as the schedule of damages.

“At this time, by my calculation, the county owes a total of $104,272 per day in liquidated damages until the issues have been addressed,” Rubenstein wrote. “WVDOC will be performing a full audit of all operations at the facility and will update the list accordingly when other deficiencies are known.

“The amounts owed in liquidated damages shall be subtracted from the amounts due and owing from WVDOC to the county,” according to the letter. Rubenstein went on to state that if all of the deficiencies are not immediately resolved, “WVDOC will have no option but to exercise its rights under the contract that includes cancellation of the contract with the county.

“In the alternative to invoking the liquidated damages clause of the contract, WVDOC is willing to waive all damages owed and assist in effectuating a transfer of the facility, both ownership and operations, to the WVDOC,” Rubenstein wrote.

Hicks’ petition for a writ is a little more succinct. Hicks claims that in the March 14, 2013 budget hearings, the budget for the clerk’s office was to be revised with an additional $85,000 to cover the additional expense when the number of county employees increased from 85 to 192 with the addition of the Stevens Correctional Center personnel. The county started issuing monthly checks of $78,000 to the clerk’s office.

Hicks stated that in the Nov. 13, 2013 commission meeting, commissioners Gordon Lambert and A. Ray Bailey voted to stop the $78,000 money payments until the attorney general could rule in its legality. Hicks claims that on June 11, the commission suspended the $78,000 payments. “The petitioner cannot operate the County Clerk’s portion of the office without the $78,000 earmarked for such and cannot furlough employees, thus the constitutional duties could not be performed.”

The county commission did not return a voice mail message seeking comment Friday afternoon, and Commission President Gordon Lambert did not return a cell phone voice mail message seeking comment on Sunday afternoon. No one at the Stevens Correctional Center had contact information for commission lawyer Sid Bell on Sunday afternoon.

— Contact Bill Archer at barcher@bdtonline.com

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