This past week’s Tuesday night work session grew contentious between Sheriff Johnny Moats and the Polk County Board of Commissioners as they asked the Sheriff to present information over jail maintenance and the costs associated with repairs made at the facility over the past months.

Moats came before the board during their Tuesday, April 2 work session with the following packet of information and handed it to the board before he began to lay out longstanding issues he told Commissioners dates back to prior to his administration.

Here’s the documents he presented, which the Sheriff gave to Polk Today following an interview on April 5:

Additionally, here are the full audio recordings for the work and regular sessions of the Polk County Commission to listen to yourselves on this matter.

Jail problems

During the presentation, Moats explained that difficulties have come up in finding contractors who are willing to come in and make repairs on plumbing at the Polk County Jail in pods from the “old” part of the jail that when first built, were installed via crane in sections and have in the time since rusted and are unusable for housing inmates.

Moats told the board that drains in the worst of the pods had completely rusted out and were draining directly into the ground instead of through the complex of pipes that lead to a sump pump to catch items inmates might flush at the jail that end up in the City of Cedartown’s water treatment plant or caught up in pumps in the sewer lines.

The county had previously put a plan out to bid to build a grinder system into the jail sewer lines to prevent the need for pumping out what is essentially a large holding tank to keep those items out of the sewer system, but ultimately it was dropped as costs for maintenance over time along with construction far exceeded the amount Commissioners were willing to put up for the project.

Moats also detailed some of the projects that had been undertaken already, including kitchen plumbing repairs that were done to ensure the Polk County Health Department didn’t shut down the facility’s food service.

The Sheriff brought along contractor Tim Tolbert who has been completing the work and submitted a bill to the county that initially did not include any information about the scope of the work completed.

During this point of the presentation, Commissioner Ray Carter began to question an invoice provided to the county for $22,000+ worth of work. Sheriff Moats later showed Polk Today that invoice and provided a copy.

That invoice was also verified to have been found on Wednesday morning, April 3, by the county in an email from County Manager Matt Denton.

LISTEN: Condensed version of the County Commission Work Session

“Is there a project plan total? Do we know the entire scope? Cause I know it is a lot of stuff and I know its individual items,” Carter asked.

Moats explained that because the plumbing is under concrete, the full scope of the repairs needed in two of the pods – B and D in the old portion of the jail – won’t be known until the concrete is busted up and looked at thoroughly.

He then pointed toward the past administrations of Sheriff’s maintenance and jail staff using acid-based drain clearing products to get rid of clogs instead of drain augers, which would have left cast iron plumbing under the concrete in tact. He also noted that he previously sought help from Polk County Public Service – who he said completed the old jail’s plumbing system – to clear the drains when clogged but eventually that service came to a stop.

Moats said after years of trying to deal with the problems, he met Tolbert at the 2023 Officer of the Year ceremony held by the Exchange Club, and he began to look at the problems and make repairs without busting up the old plumbing in areas. That’s required having to put plumbing on walls where inmates might have access to the pipes, and cages are being welded around it.

After this explanation, Commissioner Carter began to get into the meat of his issues with the projects underway at the jail.

“But spend and go is no way either. We’re spending and going, and i’m seeing invoices come in… I don’t have a scope of work behind them, I don’t see justification for them and spend and go, we’ll be through 20 million dollars in no time flat on a $10 million facility… It may not be all your cost, and it may not be all your work. But whatever tears up next, tears up next and then we’re calling someone next.

If I don’t know the scope of the work, then I can’t make a sound business decision and sir this is not targeted at you…” Carter continued before being interrupted again that “We can’t make a sound business decision on the cost effectiveness of rehabbing versus rebuilding. And nobody here has said rebuilding is not an option. Its a shame that we have a jail that is as old as it is and in the condition its in.”

“And one thing I’ll note the contractor said is there are things that can be done to prevent this damage. Yes we treated the pipes wrong. But are their operational things that can be done as well to prevent some of the damage inmates are doing? Are their things that they are being allowed to have that are causing damage? I don’t know. I’m not the Sheriff, that’s his job,” Carter said.

Moats began to interrupt and say that inmates aren’t given anything to cause this level of damage, and an exchange that devolved into tense questioning and statements between the Sheriff and Commissioners began.

Carter continued his previous statement with: “but coming to a checkbook because we can’t control a population and pointing fingers backward past 10 years ago – you’ve been sheriff for 8?”

Moats replied “12 years.”

Carter immediately followed up with “12. You’ve been sheriff 12 years. So pointing fingers back 12 years ago to problems that are now manifesting is unacceptable. You’ve had 12 years to fix it. And if this guy couldn’t get people to work…”

Moats: “Are you not hearing what I’m saying, Ray? No one would come in to fix this jail. I’ve asked. I actually told Matt (Denton) and said ‘If you don’t like the way I’m doing it? I’m not a maintenance man. I’m law enforcement.'”

Whose job is it to keep up the jail?

By this point in the presentation, Moats said in a follow-up interview he began to feel as if he was being attacked by Commissioner Carter (see more here) and felt it necessary to defend himself. Sheriff Moats did later apologize for the following language, and some used later that some might find offensive.

The argument ultimately boiled down to this exchange between Moats, Carter and then other commissioners including Gary Martin and Linda Liles over jail maintenance, major repairs and who is ultimately responsible and came not long after the above exchange between Carter and Moats.

Moats is what under the Georgia State Constitution is a “Constitutional Officer,” given authority as a law enforcement officer outside of the immediate control of county government. The building is run by Sheriff Moats, but the county government as “owner” of the property on behalf of the people are in charge of building, maintaining and funding the jail that houses hundreds of inmates on any given day.

The budget is proposed by the Sheriff annually, and included in that is money that is provided for jail maintenance that comes from several sources – including money that is collected on fees from bonds posted to get inmates out from behind bars.

Where the conversation picks up and gets further heated between the Commission and the Sheriff comes down to the dollars and cents behind the jail maintenance funding.

“If you don’t give me the money to fix it, I can’t fix it,” Moats argued.

“You’ve got the largest budget of anyone in the county,” Carter noted.

“And I should, I run the damn jail,” Moats replied.

Following this exchange, Commissioner Martin interrupted the back and forth to ask Denton about the jail maintenance fund, which the county manager explained is funded via court fines levied on defendants when sentence in court. Those fines are then utilized as part of the sheriff’s budget to cover the costs of regular maintenance at the jail.

Moats interjected to add at this point: “If you want to find me another plumber or someone who can fix it, do it… cause this is all I can find.”

“I’ll go fix it, I’ll go take care of it for you,” Martin joked, attempting to lighten the situation.

“This is not unique to Polk County, this is happening all over the country,” Moats said. “You’re housing mentally ill people who are constantly do shit all the time in that jail. They flush their clothes, they destroy everything that we get.”

Liles interrupted to ask “Now sheriff, tell me if I’m wrong, didn’t we vote on something to help with the plumbing to do that?” Denton interrupted to say no, but Liles continued “I thought that we did.”

“No actually they curbed the flow of flushed items considerably,” County Manager Matt Denton said. “We have a sump.”

He’s referring to the sump system in place to capture and screen out items being flushed by inmates.

As the back and forth between Commissioners and Sheriff continued, the point came back around to how invoices are being submitted to the county for work completed, and whether that process is the correct way to go about it.

Typically, when major repairs over a certain dollar figure are required to go through committees before ending up in front of the County Commission during a regular session for a vote, utilizing an open bidding process to determine the lowest possible cost for work to be done in a facility like the jail. County Administration also works to determine the best contractor based on other factors – previous projects being completed, whether they have done business with the county or neighboring municipalities, etc. – to ensure that the job isn’t being bid out to someone who can’t handle or warranty the work required as well.

An estimate and invoice for work was submitted to County Administration for plumbing work, but did not go through the typical open bidding process because as Moats proclaimed several times during the session, he has been unable to find someone who could do the work.

(He later explains this in an interview conducted on Friday, April 5.)

Sheriff Moats noted that when major problem occur – such as issues within the kitchen that the Health Department inspectors required repairing before giving the kitchen a passing grade – that those problems are dealt with quickly.

Commissioner Jordan Hubbard interrupted the back and forth to ask about why invoices weren’t coming back with any scope of work to the county for payment and began another exchange.

“It was just a final bill and here’s the final amount,” Hubbard said. “And that’s the thing that is concerning.”

Johnny: Well we can address that

Matt: I typically only get the bill.

Hubbard: “And nobody’s going after your integrity -“

Moats: It sounds like it.

Hubbard: No sir. No sir.

Martin: chuckles

Carter: No more than you go after mine.

Hubbard: This board and…

Liles: (huff)

Moats: I ain’t said nothing (until) you started it.

Hubbard attempted to start up again and note that no one was going after the sheriff’s integrity, but that this was purely a financial issue.

“Everything is ten times more expensive at the jail than it would be anywhere else,” Moats noted during this as well.

“And I’m not begging to differ, I’m just wanting to make sure for the taxpayers of Polk County that we have a scope of work, and here is what its going to cost that way we know we’re getting our money’s worth,” Hubbard said. “Because if we have no scope of work and we’re just getting a bill, we don’t know if we’re doing the taxpayers justice or not. That’s the question. Nobody’s going after your integrity.”

“And yeah, that’s what I wanted to know,” Liles immediately added. “When you – when he finds something that has to be done, does he send that to someone to get it OK’d?”

Another back-and-forth over who submits invoicing and estimates for the Sheriff’s Office and whether the county had seen them or not did come back around to Moats noting the following again:

“I was told what is messed up and get it fixed, and that’s my only option. And.. I’m not a plumber. I’m not a maintenance man. I don’t know why people think the Sheriff wears more hats than law enforcement. I’m not a maintenance man,” he said.

Liles immediately responded with “Well sheriff… Well sheriff, I think that’s the problem. I think we just hit on it. If he finds something, I think he has to send it over before he does it. Or Matt. Or you do, so we know how much its going to cost.”

Ultimately, Commission Chair Hal Floyd brought the conversation to a halt after several more minutes of questions being answered by Moats about locks at the jail and other items that needed to be repaired. Floyd noted that it was the Commission’s job to do something about the jail as soon as possible.

“We need to help Johnny, we need to find some company that does jail refurbishing,” Floyd said. “Somewhere there’s somebody that can fix B & D, and we need to find them… We’re going to find someone to fix it, and then after that accountability.”

He also pointed to concerns over an invoice submitted for $22,000 that wasn’t fully accounted for what was repaired. Sheriff Moats later presented that invoice during an interview to Polk Today with details about what was repaired.

Not over yet

Once Moats’ presentation to the board at the April work session was over, he left the meeting to go home.

Before the work session ended on Tuesday night, Commissioner Carter made the following statement to the board and audience for the record:

“I want to apologize to the audience for the display tonight. It was not intended to be targeted or anything against our sheriff. He does a good job. The issue tonight was the expenditure of your tax dollars, and that is why he was asked to speak tonight. And as finance chairman, I take that personal and very passionately as our previous chairman Scotty Tillery did. We’ve been asking questions about jail maintenance for a long time, and I wish the sheriff was here to hear this, because I extend my apology to him as well. We’ve tried to work with him very diligently, and we’ve made progress in several areas. This board has not denied a single request the sheriff has made for funding. The work is not getting done, the maintenance is bad, and it is going to cost us a lot of money. I apologize for that. I hate that for our citizens, because it deprives other areas that we need to spend money on, or it deprives tax cuts for you. And its unfortunate you got to see it displayed in that manner tonight. I apologize personally for my behavior with that. That being said, I will hold to the truth that we are going to maintain expenses, and we’re going to do the right thing with the jail. I understand that maintaining prisoners is a difficult task. A very difficult task. I have a law enforcement background, I worked for a company that contracted with penitentiaries, and I’ve done staffing plans for them before. I’m very familiar with it. That doesn’t excuse the fact of what you let them do, and there has to come a point in time where accountability comes into focus. And that was the only intent and question tonight to understand what is truly being done to fix these problems and minimize costs and save you guys dollars.”

Upon hearing about Commissioner Carter’s statement, Sheriff Moats returned back to the board meeting room and waited until the end of the regular session to make the following statement:

I want to address something before everyone leaves if y’all don’t mind, I think some stuff was said toward me after I left. (inaudible) … but I want y’all to know how much money I’ve saved the county with the inmate work detail. We have built all these fences around everywhere. They was going to spend over $100,000 to build fences out here at these trailheads. My inmates built it for free. We paint the schools, we paint office buildings, we do all kinds of stuff. And for somebody to say that I’m wasting money? I’ve never wasted money. I’m almost always on budget, and if I’m over it is over stuff that I cannot control. But I come and I ask for a budget every year, and it gets shot down every year. So I just want you to know the truth. Like I say, I’ve saved more money for this county than I have (inaudible.) When I came into office, I got a shithole to be honest with you.

The Sheriff before me destroyed it. And I should have taken out charges on him, but I didn’t because I didn’t want to be (inaudible.) So I just started all over, and we’ve added all these programs, and didn’t ask anymore money for our CHAMPS, for our officer we had in Rockmart that was kind of a flop. Nobody would use it. But I did all that for our taxpayers. And right now, I’m probably under-budget this year, except for all the problems I inherited. So I just wanted you all to know that cause I don’t like to be talked about when I’m not here.”

Commissioner Liles after a pause interrupted Sheriff Moats to say: “Johnny, I do want you to know that Ray apologized. I know you weren’t here to hear it, (Moats interjects: I was not.) but Ray apologized. Very, very..”

Commissioner Martin added “Professionally.”

Liles finished off the note with “Very professional.”

One of the Commissioners did note again the board’s meeting was adjourned, and before the tape ended Moats did say “I just want the truth out there.”

This brought Tuesday’s sessions to a close, without any resolution as to what will happen going forward between the Commission and the Sheriff over maintenance issues at the Polk County Jail.

In a follow-up interview with Sheriff Moats, he noted he would no longer go before the County Commission to present any information. He will host them in his office if they have questions or concerns they wish to raise with him about any issues they have.

Polk Today has received some documentation brought up and into question over spending by the Sheriff’s Office at the Polk County Jail, but awaits some information to come back before making any determination about financials involving the facility and how much the county has paid for so far.

Check back for more subscriber-only coverage of these issues when it becomes available.

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