Sheriff, ODOT agreement on hold while commissioner delves into details

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

A plan to put residents from a correctional facility to work cleaning up litter along state roads in Athens County has been put on hold while a county commissioner reviews a proposed contract.

Athens County Sheriff Patrick Kelly approached the county commissioners at their Dec. 17 meeting with a contract through the Ohio Department of Transportation to hire a deputy to supervise workers cleaning the roads.

He also told the commissioners that he wanted to utilize residents from the Southeastern Probation Treatment Alternative Correctional Facility in Nelsonville, rather than inmates from the Southeastern Ohio Regional Jail.

"That way we (the county) won't have to pay for workers' (compensation) benefits, since it would already be paid (through SEPTA)," Kelly said.

Kelly heard about the one-year renewable contract with ODOT through Washington County Sheriff Larry Mincks, whose agency is currently running such a program.

"The program has been very effective and successful," Kelly said of Mincks' program. Mincks could not be reached for comment on Friday.

The focus of the project is on state highway clean-up and it would be a savings for both the state and the county, Kelly said, especially when using free workers from SEPTA.

The contract through ODOT would provide $30,000, which would be used to hire a deputy and pay for fuel costs and other associated costs. The county already has a vehicle, typically used by the environmental officer.

Reserve deputies have expressed interest in the project, which would employ the deputy on a part-time basis, six hours a day, four days a week. The deputy would be paid $16 per hour, and the remaining contracted money would go toward health benefits.

Kelly said he has discussed the project with SEPTA and the state, and "everyone is on board and waiting for the commissioner," referring to Commissioner Charlie Adkins.

At the Dec. 17 meeting, Adkins asked that the proposal be tabled to allow him more time to go over the contract.

"We received a contract that was pretty vague," Adkins said. "Before I approve something, I like to know everything so I can make an intelligent decision."

The contract didn't specify who was going to do the work, how the work would be done and if the contract would pay for everything involved in completing the project, according to Adkins.

"Just because you get a grant to do something, it doesn't mean it comes with everything you need to pay for it," Adkins said, adding that he thought a contractual agreement should be made with SEPTA as well.

Adkins said he met with Athens County Prosecutor Keller Blackburn and asked that he contact SEPTA about the project.

Blackburn declined to comment on the project Friday, and would not confirm that he had discussed the project with Adkins.

Monda Deweese, executive director of SEPTA, said she had talked with Blackburn and Kelly in separate telephone calls inquiring about the project. Deweese said the request was "not an uncommon occurrence," and one that any non-profit or governmental organization could make.

"SEPTA has a very strong community service background and we do various projects," Deweese said. "We've built playgrounds for schools, we worked on the Murray City Park that was just opened, really any kind of project."

For any organization to utilize SEPTA workers, a community service agreement must be signed that "outlines their responsibilities," Deweese said.

The organization that utilizes SEPTA must provide transportation and supervision.

The SEPTA program is a community-based correctional facility that serves almost 16 counties. The program helps offenders who would be eligible for prison but have been put on diversion find employment during their sentence.

SEPTA workers for the highway project would have to be those without prior employment placement. This presents a challenge for the project.

"There's a tremendous amount of turnover depending on how many have found jobs and how long they are set to spend with SEPTA," Deweese said. "That number (of residents available) may fluctuate and it's certainly not a consistent number."

Kelly has requested that the item be put back on the agenda for the next commissioners meeting and plans to ask for an "up or down vote."

"I'm not asking for (commissioners) to adopt an agreement that we haven't tried and that we don't know is successful," Kelly said. "We already have something like this in place for county roads, but now we could have an organized program for all the roads."