Sheriff Marlin Gusman has missed several hiring deadlines spelled out in a recent funding agreement with city officials, failing to fill key positions needed for his office to carry out court-ordered improvements at Orleans Parish Prison, according to a report by the jail’s independent monitor that faults Gusman for dragging his heels.
The positions remain vacant three months after Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration struck a temporary accord with Gusman over funding for the new hires.
The lack of hiring is further delaying the sheriff’s compliance with a sweeping federal consent decree intended to overhaul the troubled jail, monitor Susan McCampbell wrote in a new report to U.S. District Judge Lance Africk.
Of the positions the sheriff has managed to fill, Tracie Washington, a lawyer hired to serve as Gusman’s “compliance coordinator,” is being paid a salary of $80,000 a year, McCampbell noted, almost twice the $43,000 called for in the agreement with the city.
“The monitors are very concerned that (the Sheriff’s Office) has not timely acted to implement provisions of the negotiated partial settlement agreement,” McCampbell wrote, referring to the funding deal reached in April between lawyers for the city and the sheriff.
The cost of jail reform has sparked growing discord between Gusman and city officials, who under state law must foot the bill for inmates’ care. The settlement agreement, signed this spring, marked a detente — the two sides have since shifted their bickering to how to provide mental health care for inmates — as the city released an extra $950,000 to the sheriff for hiring and recruiting.
Those funds represented an unspent portion of the $1.8 million city officials promised Gusman last year to help defray costs of the consent decree. At the time, the sheriff hailed the deal with the city as “the framework for substantial compliance” with the decree.
The agreement, however, amounted to only a fraction of the $10 million that inmate advocates and the U.S. Department of Justice have said would be needed this year for the Sheriff’s Office to comply with the long list of consent decree requirements — a price tag sharply disputed by the cash-strapped city.
McCampbell’s latest report, filed Friday in U.S. District Court, notes that Gusman missed deadlines for hiring a human resources consultant and another consultant who will be tasked with developing pay structures and job descriptions. Also remaining vacant is the position of inmate classification manager, a job McCampbell described as “an extremely critical position to inmate safety.”
The lack of a sophisticated classification system — a mechanism for evaluating and housing inmates based upon factors such as criminal history and medical needs — has been cited as a factor in the rampant violence that continues to plague OPP.
The hiring of the consultants is designed to aid the Sheriff’s Office is recruiting new deputies to man the understaffed jail.
Gusman blamed city leaders for the slow pace of hiring, pointing to incomplete or partial funding as a roadblock to filling the positions. In a June 20 compliance report, the sheriff noted that the Society for Human Resource Management “advises employers not to recruit for a position when there is uncertainty as to whether or when the position will be filled,” adding that the Sheriff’s Office has been reluctant to make certain hires because 2015 funding has not yet been committed by the city.
McCampbell rejected that reasoning as “unpersuasive,” saying the “partial funding condition” was known to Gusman when he signed the settlement agreement with the city.
McCampbell’s report did credit Gusman for meeting a June 1 deadline to hire a compliance coordinator, but it noted that the agreed-upon cost was about half of the salary Washington is receiving.
Washington, who declined to comment, acts as a liaison between the Sheriff’s Office and jail monitors. Philip Stelly, a Gusman spokesman, said the sheriff hired Washington “because she understands the depth and breadth of experience needed to stand up a compliance office at a public entity.”
He said Washington was hired as a “compliance officer,” a position with a broader job description than a “compliance coordinator.”
A “coordinator,” Stelly said, “implies somebody who just compiles reports.”
“Ms. Washington is a seasoned trial attorney, mediator/arbitrator and social justice advocate,” Stelly added in an email. “Further, Ms. Washington is credentialed as a certified compliance and ethics professional.”
The positions mentioned in McCampbell’s report represent only part of the hiring challenges Gusman faces because of policy and staffing changes mandated by the consent decree.
The sheriff noted in his compliance report that his office intended to start a class of some two dozen deputy recruits on June 30. Stelly said that class began recently.
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