Sullivan commissioners: too early to hire jail project manager

J. H. Osborne • Mar 24, 2019 at 5:30 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — An effort to have a project manager be involved as soon as possible in the development of plans to ease overcrowding at the Sullivan County Jail went down in flames Thursday night.

The Sullivan County Commission was asked to vote to allow the county purchasing agent to begin soliciting would-be contenders for the job. Commissioner Mark Vance was the primary sponsor of the resolution supporting that action. After multiple commissioners described it as a premature step, Vance withdrew the resolution to end further discussion at the panel’s monthly meeting.

Vance was asked by more than one commissioner if the goal of the resolution was to have the project manager involved in another hired consultant’s development of a recommendation on whether the jail should be renovated or expanded, or if new construction is needed to get the county to where it should be to handle the volume of inmates — or if his goal was to get a potential project manager lined up to be ready to move ahead once the consulting firm makes it recommendation. That recommendation will require the approval of the commission, which also will have to come up with a way to fund whatever is done regarding the jail. There are no funds in the current budget for a jail building project, be it renovation, expansion or a new facility.

“We want a project manager on the front end to be involved with the study,” Vance said, later noting it could take three to four months to complete the request for proposals (RFP) process used to identify candidates for the position. Vance said pushing the hiring further into the future means a slower response to jail overcrowding, and the project manager is needed to make sure MBI, Inc., the consulting firm hired to study the county’s jail facilities and make a recommendation on what to do to correct overcrowding, produces a recommendation that is feasible from a construction standpoint.

“They’re not construction people,” Vance said.

Commissioner Sam Jones asked why the county should pay someone to do the job if the County Technical Assistance Service (CTAS) provides some sort of oversight of construction projects for jails across the state. Sullivan County Jail Administrator Lee Craswell said CTAS and the Tennessee Corrections Institute are involved in the whole process and that both those state agencies have never heard of a project manager being hired to participate during the study portion.

Commissioner Colette George said project managers are absolutely necessary, but she, too, doesn’t think the county is at the point of needing to put out a RFP seeking one for the jail. George said the scope of the project — whether it is a renovation, an expansion, or a new build — will define what qualifications applicants would need. George also said would-be applicants would likely want to know what the job timeline will be before knowing whether their schedules permit them to seek the job. Trying to hire someone now, George said, could make the county miss getting the right person for the job.

MBI is expected to complete its work and have a recommendation by November.

The county’s jail facilities, with a certified capacity of 621, have typically been holding 980 inmates on recent weekends, Carswell said.