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County declines Sheriff's offer to run jail

ESCAMBIA COUNTY, Fla. - The Escambia County Commission is saying no thanks to Sheriff David Morgan's offer to keep running the jail for another year. The sheriff made that offer earlier this week, but today commissioners said they're for the most part on track with a plan to take over the jail by October 1.

Escambia County Commission Chairman Gene Valentino said, "All systems are go!"

Valentino said so far the transition is going pretty well, though it may not be done entirely on time.

"There are some operational issues that may slide after October first," Valentino said, "But that that happens in any transition."

Sheriff David Morgan, meanwhile, has a different take.

He said, "We've noticed some problems with the transition."

The sheriff sent a letter Monday offering to keep running the jail for another year. He believes everyone involved may need more time for the transition and he has other concerns.

Morgan said, "We're not getting questions from the county, we're getting directions."

Morgan says he's worried in particular about Interim County Administrator George Touart's effort to combine the information technology departments of the county and the sheriff's office. Morgan says that's not possible under the law.

"You must be a law enforcement agency to access those systems," Morgan said.

Touart, however, said he's confident the IT issues will be worked out. He again said he believes the transition will cost less than the $2.6 million commissioners have set aside. And he says the county should not have to raise taxes.

The commission decided to take over the jail last month after the sheriff said he would hand it over to them following a lengthy budget battle. He had asked for more money than the commission was willing to give to fix problems cited in a scathing Justice Department report, which called conditions at the jail appalling and violent.

The commission says it's working with the Justice Department to make mandatory improvements.

Valentino said, "The Department of Justice has been very cooperative and very friendly."

As for any talk of privatizing the jail, Valentino said, "Privatization is off the table. We know we can do it more cost effectively inside with the team we have."