BACK TO SQUARE ONE

Lat­est city coun­cil decision on pro­ba­tion con­tract brings new com­pany back into the mix af­ter cur­rent provider spurns of­fer

The Covington News - - Front Page - GABRIEL KHOULI Staff Re­porter

In an­other un­ex­pected twist, Cov­ing­ton’s pro­ba­tion ser­vices provider turned down the city’s con­tract ex­ten­sion of­fer Mon­day, de­spite the fact a for­mer em­ployee had asked the coun­cil four weeks ago es­sen­tially to give the com­pany an­other chance.

The at­tor­ney for Fran Martin, owner of East Ge­or­gia Cor­rec­tional Ser­vices, sent the city a let­ter Mon­day de­clin­ing its re­cent pro­posal to ex­tend Martin’s cur­rent con­tract one ad­di­tional year.

“We ap­pre­ci­ate your of­fer of a new one-year con­tract and be­lieve it serves as tes­ta­ment to the ex­cel­lent ser­vice East Ge­or­gia has pro­vided to the cit­i­zens of the city of Cov­ing­ton for the past seven years,” stated the re­jec­tion let­ter, signed by Athens-based at­tor­ney Rus­sell Ed-

I was like ‘Well dang, where did this come from?’ yes­ter­day. My whole thing is life goes on. It’s busi­ness...

— Keith Dal­ton

Cov­ing­ton coun­cil mem­ber

wards. “Un­for­tu­nately, the city of Cov­ing­ton’s solic­i­tor no longer refers enough cases to pro­ba­tion for East Ge­or­gia to serve Cov­ing­ton ef­fec­tively.”

As a re­sult of the re­jec­tion, the city turned back to the bid process it had aban­doned ear­lier this month, and the coun­cil voted Mon­day to se­lect Ju­di­cial Al­ter­na­tives of Ge­or­gia as the next pro­ba­tion ser­vices provider, be­cause the com­pany had the best bid.

The re­jec­tion let­ter came af­ter the Cov­ing­ton City Coun­cil voted March 5 to ex­tend its con­tract with East Ge­or­gia Cor­rec­tional one more year and to re­ject all bids the city had re­ceived when it put out a call for pro­ba­tion ser­vice providers.

East Ge­or­gia Cor­rec­tional chose not to bid on the con­tract, but for­mer and now vol­un­teer em­ployee Jen­nifer Hartman told the coun­cil Feb. 20 that she and Martin felt the

See Pro­ba­tion, 3A

com­pany was ex­cluded from bid­ding be­cause of lan­guage in the con­tract. City of­fi­cials said the lan­guage was sim­ply stan­dard con­tract lan­guage.

At the March 5 meet­ing, in a 3-2 vote, coun­cil­men Keith Dal­ton, Chris Smith and Mike What­ley voted to ex­tend the con­tract with East Ge­or­gia Cor­rec­tional. Dal­ton said af­ter that meet­ing he was con­cerned about hav­ing both a new judge and new pro­ba­tion com­pany at the same time. Cov­ing­ton Mu­nic­i­pal Court Judge David Strick­land was not reap­pointed ear­lier this year, and at­tor­ney Ben Hen­dricks has been act­ing as in­terim judge, though a new judge is ex­pected to be se­lected soon.

While there was talk that Martin was seek­ing a three­year con­tract ex­ten­sion, both of the par­ties she was ru­mored to have spo­ken with, Mayor Ron­nie John­ston and Dal­ton, said Tues­day she did not ask them for a con­tract ex­ten­sion.

John­ston said Tues­day that Martin’s at­tor­ney called him and wanted to set up a meet­ing with John­ston and City Man­ager Steve Hor­ton; how­ever, John­ston sug­gested the at­tor­ney ad­dress the en­tire coun­cil if he wanted to talk about the con­tract.

Fol­low­ing the an­nounce­ment that Martin had re­jected the con­tract of­fer, the coun­cil dis­cussed Mon­day how to move for­ward as the ex­ist­ing con­tract ends March 31.

Be­cause the city had just bid out the con­tract, City At­tor­ney Ed Crudup said the coun­cil could sim­ply rat­ify the con­tract that had al­ready been agreed upon with Ju­di­cial Al­ter­na­tive of Ge­or­gia ( JAG), the com­pany that won the bid. The coun­cil’s ap­proval was sub­ject to JAG ac­cept­ing the city’s of­fer, but JAG Owner Ken Kight said Tues­day his com­pany would ac­cept the of­fer.

Ad­min­is­tra­tive Ser­vices Di­rec­tor Ron­nie Cowan sent an email out late Mon­day af­ter the coun­cil meet­ing to all seven providers that sub­mit­ted a bid pre­vi­ously, ask­ing them if they wanted to con­firm or re­ject their orig­i­nal bid. Kight said Tues­day his com­pany had con­firmed its bid and, since it was al­ready se­lected as the best bid by city of­fi­cials, the com­pany is ex­pected to be se­lected.

When asked how he would han­dle such a quick tran­si­tion, Kight said the com­pany has had quicker turn­around times be­fore. He ref­er­enced a con­tract with a court in Colum­bus, where the judge fired the pro­ba­tion ser­vices provider and JAG was up and run­ning in two days.

“It’s noth­ing we have not done be­fore. We could put a tem­po­rary pro­ba­tion of­fice up, see peo­ple and send out let­ters and we could be fully op­er­a­tional within two or three days,” Kight said.

One of the main rea­sons, the city looked to bid out the pro­ba­tion ser­vices con­tract in the first place was that East Ge­or­gia Cor­rec­tional was no longer re­im­burs­ing the city for trans­port­ing pro­ba­tion­ers back and forth and for pro­vid­ing su­per­vi­sion. By switch­ing to JAG, the city is ex­pected to save nearly $40,000, ac­cord­ing to city of­fi­cials; Cowan pre­vi­ously said JAG was the only com­pany that of­fered those ser­vices.

Kight said pre­vi­ously his com­pany has of­fered to:

pro­vide trans­porta­tion to and from com­mu­nity ser­vice work sites

elec­tron­i­cally down­load all data to the clerk’s of­fice so work­ers wouldn’t have to do it man­u­ally and so that judges and court per­son­nel could see any case info on­line

pro­vide Span­ish speaker in­ter­preters to court at the com­pany’s ex­pense

not pass along any of those costs onto the city or pro­ba­tion­ers

Dal­ton and Smith both said Tues­day that they never had con­tact with Martin in be­tween the day the for­mer em­ployee spoke to the coun­cil and the day Martin re­jected the con­tract ex­ten­sion of­fer.

“I have not had any con­ver­sa­tions with Ms. Martin or Ms. Hartman or what­ever about ‘Hey, y’all want to do this, don’t do that,’ what­ever, and you know about as much as I know. My thing is now, they re­jected it, plan b, we have to get some­thing go­ing on for our­selves,” said Dal­ton, who said he didn’t find out about the re­jec­tion let­ter un­til 4:30 p.m.

“I was like ‘Well dang, where did this come from?’ yes­ter­day. My whole thing is life goes on. It’s busi­ness, that’s the way at I look at what we do with the city, and we have to keep the ball rolling. That’s why I just went ahead and made the mo­tion last night like I did,” Dal­ton said. “No hard feel­ings, no noth­ing, it’s just the hand I was handed last night and I tried to make the best of it.”

In the re­jec­tion let­ter, Martin’s at­tor­ney also wrote, “We wish you and the other mem­bers of the ju­di­ciary in Cov­ing­ton the best of luck in striv­ing to re­store the cit­i­zens’ faith in their ju­di­cial sys­tem.”

The com­ment echoes state­ments made by Hartman in a pre­vi­ous email to the city coun­cil, where she al­leged Judge Strick­land’s ro­man­tic re­la­tion­ship with a pro­ba­tion of­fi­cer af­fected his per­for­mance.

Mu­nic­i­pal court meets ev­ery Wed­nes­day and hears mi­nor traf­fic in­frac­tions, park­ing ci­ta­tions and city or­di­nance vi­o­la­tions is­sued within the city lim­its of Cov­ing­ton. The court does not han­dle civil or small claims cases. The Cov­ing­ton court­room is lo­cated in the Cov­ing­ton Po­lice Depart­ment, 1143 Oak St.

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