County considers legal challenge on jail

Two Marion County commissioners, Chairman Randy Dallke and Dan Holub, said Monday they are ready to challenge the State Fire Marshal?s office requirements for the county jail in court if they can?t be successfully negotiated.

The third commissioner at the weekly meeting, Bob Hein, said he is inclined the same way, but wants to talk more with Sheriff Rob Craft and County Attorney Susan Robson before a decision is made.

Dallke said Marion County is being treated unfairly by SFMO. Its fire inspection results call for an around-the-clock fire watch that could require the sheriff to hire as many as four or five more people.

?Otherwise, it will take deputies off the road and off patrol to do fire watch,? Dallke said.

Dallke said Marion County apparently has been singled out for this kind of treatment as the result of a private complaint made to SFMO. The county was not being given the name of the person who complained.

?We?ve been turned in by somebody,? Hein said.

All three commissioners joined in saying they know of no other jails in the state being subjected to the SFMO inspections and requirements that Marion County is.

?I don?t think any other jail has to have a fire watch,? Dallke said.

Holub said Marion County has had continuous new requirements placed on its jail by SFMO since 2007.

?How long can this go on?? he asked.

Craft confirmed that Tony Rangel, architect with Law Kingdon of Wichita, will cooperate in providing records for upgrades the firm handled at the jail to satisfy SFMO requirements over the past several years.

Communications and Emergency Management Director Michele Abbott said that at least three previous upgrades at the jail have been required by SFMO, and each time the county has received letters from SFMO confirming compliance done.

Before this, Abbott said, there has never been a mention of space requirements for inmates, let alone the 120 square feet per prisoner that departs from the national standard of 55 square feet.

Craft said a dispatcher was added to Abbott?s department in a previous set of requirements just to provide one more person to monitor the jail area on camera.

Abbott said she thought infrared alarms in the jail should add enough safety room to take care of monitoring.

Dallke said to Craft, ?You have our sincere support that we are not in agreement with what?s going on here either. We are not here to set anything aside. We want to take care of it.

?We started efforts to improve the jail situation five years ago. We?re not going to give up on it. We need to look at the cost of a new jail versus the cost of this jail plus a bunch of smoke watchers.?

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