Jail administration source of debate

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

Talk of whether or not to add 10 new detention officer positions for the jail Tuesday turned to discussion of how the county should manage the facility.

Commissioner Dan Stoddard said he believes the county should cease looking for an administrator and Sheriff Matt Murray should stay in command until the jail is accredited, a process which could take a couple of years.

In the meantime, the administrator salary, budgeted at $85,000, can be put towards hiring 10 new detention officers, he said.

“The jail is one of the most important issues in Clovis and Curry County right now and we need to act swiftly,” he said.

He said the county’s approach to the issue is obviously not working, evidenced by turnover in administrators and the other issues the jail has faced.

“We keep doing the same thing and we’re getting worse results.”

Sheriff Matt Murray took command of the jail Feb. 21.

The jail has been without an administrator more than nine months, since County Manager Lance Pyle fired Lois Bean in September.

Pyle told the commission he is working toward hiring an administrator and command staff. Pyle said he hopes to have the positions filled in time to participate in the June 2 kick-off of a new, statewide jail accreditation program being proffered by the New Mexico Association of Counties.

“I would recommend by June 2 we either have the sheriff take it over or hire an administrator,” Pyle said, explaining he has two new candidates for administrator with detention experience.

Interim Administrator Kirk Roberts has also applied for the position.

Commissioner Frank Blackburn said he thought it was the wrong time to think about adding detention officers at the jail.

“I think a decision should be made about who will run the jail before we make any changes over there,” he said.

“I’ve been through seven of them (administrators) (and) everyone of them wants something different… I prefer to follow the manager’s recommendation. I would like to see what the new administrator has to say, whoever that may be.”

The proposed detention officer positions would allow the jail to go to 10-hour shifts which would create an overlap of staff, eliminating a lot of overtime and shortages when employees call in sick or don’t show up and would strengthen security and reduce stress on staff, Roberts told commissioners.

When asked by Stoddard if the 10 additional staff would increase morale among jail staff and help with retention issues, Roberts replied yes, explaining the instability is having a negative impact on staff.

“A major concern of the employees is what’s going to happen,” he said.