Maybe this is a time for Chris Collins to run county government like a business.
I assume that Collins does a cost-benefit analysis when considering options when he's got a problem to solve at one of his businesses.
Well, he's got one with the county right now - conditions and treatment of prisoners at the Erie County Holding Center. But I'm not seeing any numbers getting crunched to weigh costs and benefits.
Reports Matt Spina:
Behind the scenes, (Erie County Sheriff Timothy) Howard and County Executive Chris Collins are discussing a new multimillion-dollar downtown lockup — a quasi-jail that would take on the role the Holding Center plays in holding defendants awaiting arraignment and let Howard avoid a strict set of rules.
Inside a lockup, the sheriff need not give bedding, showers, toothbrushes and similar items to inmates who have not yet seen a judge. But the Holding Center is a jail under state law and must meet higher standards in the care of inmates.
The State Commission of Correction lawsuit was fueled largely by the Holding Center's failure to consistently provide items of personal hygiene to people detained there for several hours or in some cases days as they await their first court appearance.
What's it going to take to give prisoners blankets and tooth brushes? Not much.
What's the cost to tear down 134 West Eagle Street, a musty county-owned building still in use, to put up a new lockup? An estimated $3 million.
The cost of construction of a new lockup facility? Nothing has been calculated - or, if it has, no one is sharing a number - but the cost certainly would involve millions and millions and millions of dollars.
So, Collins and Howard want to spend millions to avoid spending thousands.
Thus, if Collins has to spend money -- our money -- to avoid being told what to do, well, that's what he'll do if he can get the County Legislature to sign off.
Up to this point, the controversy involving the holding center downtown and county correctional facility in Alden has gained only partial traction with the public. Prisoner rights and all that, ya know. Doesn't play well with the county executive's neighors at Spaulding Lake, among other diggs.
But Collins and Howard are running the risk of this becoming a tax-and-spend issue that could get the attention of both the Bud Light and Grand Marnier crowds.
I think the entire saga is getting weirder and weirder. County Attorney Cheryl Green blocking efforts by the U.S. Justice Department to inspect the holding center and jail and likening the feds to a bunch of granola-crunching prisoner rights advocates. Then Howard allowing actor Keanu Reeves to tour the holding center and correctional facility to scout for locations for an upcoming movie.
Like I said, weird. I mean, has someone dosed the water coolers at County Hall?
Another thing I've noted in the coverage is that the city is helping to foot the bill for all this, about $1 million a year. That gives Mayor Byron Brown leverage to demand changes. After all, some of the people being mistreated are his constituents, and it is being done partly on his dime.
The mayor said the other week that, of course, he wants people treated humanely. Perhaps he and/or the Common Council need to back that up with some meaningful action.