Thursday, September 15, 2011

Judge orders Atlanta and Fulton to negotiate over jail — UPDATED

Posted By on Thu, Sep 15, 2011 at 5:00 PM

During a brief meeting in federal Judge Marvin Shoob's chambers this afternoon, Mayor Kasim Reed and Fulton County Commission Chairman John Eaves agreed to meet for court-ordered discussions over the county's potential use of the city jail.

"I think you'll see mutual negotiations over the next few weeks," said Reed upon leaving, although he declined to elaborate on any expected details of those planned talks.

Today's meeting came on the heels of Shoob's order earlier this month that Fulton officials need to buy the city jail or find some other arrangement to ease chronic overcrowding at the county's own pre-trial detention center — or risk being locked up themselves.

As a recent CL article pointed out, the county may need to buy the city jail, but the city doesn't need to sell it.

In fact, Reed said he might not want to sell it.

"I don't want to put the city in a posture where we don't have the bed space we need," he said.

Currently, the city houses about 450 inmates — mostly charged with minor code violations and vagrancy — at its 1,340-bed jail, but the mayor said the number of arrests has slowly risen as the city gets tougher on crime.

Anyway, what all of this means is that the city holds all the cards and the county is in the unenviable position of being a distressed buyer.

Here's another interesting factor: the mayor has the standing to negotiate on behalf of the city, but I'd be surprised if the famously fractious Fulton Commission would gladly allow Eaves to speak for its interests. (It doesn't help the county's position that Eaves is naive, inexperienced and out of his depth, or that Reed formerly made his living as a high-powered contract lawyer.)

No date has been set for the first of these "negotiation" sessions.

UPDATE: Eaves just released a statement suggesting that the county won't be seeking to buy the city jail:

The Fulton County Board of Commissioners, at our last meeting, rejected the City of Atlanta’s offer to buy the Detention Center for $85 million as one such option to address the Rice Street Jail issues. Judge Shoob recognized that the purchase of the City Jail was no longer a viable option. At our request, the Judge agreed to stay or amend his Order which required the County to buy the Jail by November 1, 2011.

I guess that means they're going to be talking about a lease agreement.

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