by Valerie Verkamp
Following an intense two month jail study, the chairman of the nine-member citizen advisory panel had harsh words to say about one elected official and several of his fellow committee members.
James Roberts, who was elected in June by the nine-member panel to serve as the chairman of an advisory board organized by the Platte County Commissioners, criticized one commissioner and several advisory members in a letter, which also stated his formal recommendation to the county regarding the future needs of a jail facility.
Roberts accused a commissioner of committing “nepotism” for allegedly appointing a citizen who has an immediate family member actively serving as an elected county servant.
“Nepotism or the appearance of (the) same should be prohibited. No commissioner should appoint persons who have a direct and immediate relative working for the county or serving in an elected position,” wrote Roberts in a letter dated Aug. 5.
When asked by The Landmark to speak more specifically Roberts declined to elaborate, but indicated it wasn't hard to connect the dots. Among the committee members, Jacque Cox, appointed by Presiding Commissioner Jason Brown, is the wife of David Cox, Platte County Assessor.
However, nepotism is defined as “patronage bestowed or favoritism shown on the basis of family relationship.” The Landmark is unaware of any family connection between Brown and the committee members he appointed.
Also in his four-page letter to the commission, Roberts alleged that in his eyes, the committee's true agenda had been overshadowed by three committee members he deemed lacked appropriate qualifications.
Roberts indicated a commissioner appointed more than one citizen to the committee with an ill intent.
“I know there was a hidden agenda or two,” said Roberts Tuesday. “They did that so that they could have a vote go their way. It is unfortunate the hidden agendas came into play. I guess that is what happens when you have certain people in elected offices.”
Roberts indicated he earned a seat on the committee by having more than two decades of experience in corrections and developing 10 medium security prisons. Roberts was appointed by Beverlee Roper, first district commissioner.
Roberts made headlines in the July 30 issue of The Landmark when he lost his temper, directed personal insults at a couple of fellow committee members and walked out of the final meeting shortly after the final meeting had begun, saying “I’m done.”
Despite internal affairs and exaggerated population estimates, one thing the committee seemed to agree upon was the belief that at this time there is no immediate need to construct additional jail space in Platte County.
Initial population projections by Goldberg, a firm hired by the county to make future populations estimates, made absurd projections, as has previously been reported in The Landmark. Goldberg representatives maintained their numbers were developed on information given to them by county officials.
According to their projections, Platte County “will experience an increase of 75,000 households in the next 10 years. This will result in a population increase of 183,750 over 10 years or an average of 18,375 per year. This represents a population growth of approximately 287.5 percent over 10 years or an average annual population growth of 28.75%.”
Like fellow committee members, the committee's chairman rejected that report calling it “fraught with bogus data,” as well as “factually wrong and misguided.”
In his final recommendation to the commission, Roberts suggested the county make an effort to recoup the cost.
“While the amount of some $6,500 is small, an attempt should be made to recover it for the benefit of the county,” he wrote.
Rather than relying on inflated population estimates, the committee looked to get a better understanding of the immediate and future needs of the detainment center in Platte County by exploring relevant reasons the Platte County Detention Center would require new construction.
In his letter, Roberts indicated he sought out reasons to explain why the average daily population rate at the jail seemed to be declining.
After speaking with 60 Missouri sheriffs and other experts in the field at a convention in St. Louis, Roberts discovered several factors currently impacting the jail population. Roberts found that across the state there is a downward inmate rate of growth in jails, partly due to the season. He also correlated the decrease in inmates on the recent retirement of two Platte County Circuit Court judges, who cleared their docket before retiring.
Roberts claimed that recently appointed judges are more apprehensive to deny bond, which also impacts the current housing population. Warrant sweeps were also identified as a factor that drives up the inmate population. “There have been no warrant sweeps in KC's Northland in recent months,” he wrote.
Although, the committee reached the conclusion there was no immediate need to construct new living quarters for additional inmates, Roberts advised the commission to prepare for the needs on the horizon.
“[I] recommend that the “futures area” of the current county jail be professionally evaluated to determine how many beds can be built that meet all conditions of confinement, at what cost, and the time required to complete the construction. I suspect 60-75 beds at a minimum could be constructed in the future's area,” wrote Roberts.
Roberts also made a point to address Sheriff Mark Owen’s' recommendation to serve as a “hosting jurisdiction” and house other municipality's inmates. Owen had mentioned the possibility of a housing contract with the City of Kansas City to host some of their inmates.
“The rental of inmate bed space can be a source of auxiliary income for the county and I recommend that the sheriff pursue this option,” he wrote.
Roberts said the committee did not touch upon this matter.
“Unfortunately the rental of beds was never discussed or vetted by the committee. Certain members filibustered any effort to discuss this most important issue,” he wrote. He also accused three committee members of misdirecting the committee by fixating on the restructuring of the current parks tax.
“These individuals seemed to have no knowledge of public financing or how the public credit market operates. Further they did not know the terms and conditions of the park tax and the $21 million in bonds supporting the remodels of the two county community centers,” wrote Roberts.
After Roberts' written statement was read aloud during a regularly scheduled Platte County Commission meeting, jail committee member Dagmar Wood took the podium to respond to the accusations against unidentified committee members.
“I feel like there were several things that were a misrepresentation of the committee,” said Wood.
No member of the committee attempted to undermine any subject of discussion, she said.
“I have absolutely no recollection of what he is talking about,” said Wood. “If he was the chairman at this time, which he was up until the very last meeting, he had full control to change that and to manage the meeting differently if he felt there was a filibuster.”
Woods told commissioners each and every jail committee member, including Cory Ball and Roberts, were onboard with realigning the half cent parks tax up to the final meeting.
“What I take issue with,” said Wood, “is the appearance that there were people on this committee who didn't have a say in it, and there was definitely always an opportunity for people even up to the recommendation (to voice their concern).”
Wood also pointed out that during committee meetings, Roberts had said he was against leveraging funds derived from serving as a hosting jurisdiction (such as a contract with Kansas City) on financial obligations to construct a new jail facility.