State Fire Marshal’s Office reverses opinion on county jail limitations

The State Fire Marshal?s Office has decided to reverse its opinion to limit the Marion County Jail to four prisoners, and to require a 24-hour fire watch.

The decision came following talks by phone with County Attorney Susan Robson and the county?s consulting architect, Tony Rangel of Law Kingdon, Wichita.

Instead, Robson said Thurs?day during a special session of the Marion County Commission, SFMO will allow 120 square feet per person on the second floor of the jail building. This translates into a total of 20 persons, including around 16-plus prisoners plus county personnel such as dispatchers.

Robson said an official with SFMO also promised to send her the decision in writing.

?They were very apologetic, and regretful they had put us through this,? Robson said.

A county official said SFMO was aware that Marion County was likely to take the matter to court to ask for an injunction against SFMO decisions.

The commissioners said the matter still needs to go before the Kansas Association of Counties to consider what to do in such cases because other counties still face the same sort of SFMO inspection requirements.

Sheriff Rob Craft said, ?This gives us something we can work with.?

For the time being, he said, the number of prisoners normally handled by his department will fit with SFMO requirements with only minor transportation needs to meet.

He and Michele Abbott, county communications director, said they can easily comply with a suggestion that they post a sign saying the capacity of the floor is 20 persons.

?We?ll take our good news and go with it,? Robson said. ?We owe a lot to Tony Rangel. He went to bat for Marion County, and even took his time to make calls for us from his car.?

Commission Chairman Randy Dallke said the experience had proven valuable from the standpoint of clarifying options regarding problems at the jail and the transportation of prisoners.

Commissioner Dan Holub said it showed that transportation isn?t a good option for the county because it could cost thousands of dollars a day, especially in personnel time, while leaving the county with no improvements.

Holub blasts complaintant

Holub said the SFMO inspection was prompted by the complaints of one person both to SFMO and the American Civil Liberties Union, an organization the county has not heard from on the issue.

The repercussions of the person’s action for the county ?could have devastated us,? he said.

?To think that some narrow-minded person with a big axe to grind put this county in double jeopardy to satisfy his own self-interest and ego just to promote himself. It was self serving and vicious.

?He chose to take 12,000 people (the citizens of Marion County), and hold their feet to the fire to aggrandize himself. It could have devastated us, cost us hundreds of thousands of dollars. Enough is enough?this isn?t going to just slide by.

?This was unprecedented. We?ve had a little of such attitudes in economic development, where people have chosen to follow their own selfish interests.

?I do have to commend the jail committee,? Holub added. ?They had people on both sides with definite viewpoints. But from Day 1 they sat down openly, and worked for a solution. There was not hate.?

Considering real estate

Later in the special session, the commissioners considered possible real estate acquisitions for the county that might be used for building an office building or a jail. They said sentiment received from the public has supported building a new jail as close as possible to the existing courthouse complex.

The commissioners noted they have been given ideas about buildings to consider downtown in regard to relocating the health department, as well as the Seacat Hardware building in Marion?s retail park.

Dallke and Holub voted 2-0 in the absence of Commissioner Bob Hein to go into a 10-minute executive session to discuss real estate issues, with no announcement afterward.

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