Opinion » Shredder

A public allegiance

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I pledge allegiance to the sheriff of San Luis Obispo County, and to the independent report on the jail, for which the county stands to block from public access, as one, in front of Ian Parkinson, indivisible, with zero transparency and justice for nobody.

Is that the county's new pledge of allegiance, or is it just me? It sure sounded like it at the May 15 SLO County Board of Supervisors meeting. The raging hot mess that is the SLO County Jail has put County Counsel Rita Neal in a tough position—according to Rita.

The good news? SLO County plans to spend at least an extra $2.3 million to augment jail mental and medical health care services in the 2018-19 budget year. Woohoo! All it took were some jail inmate deaths, an FBI civil rights investigation, and massive public outcry! That's democracy in action, baby!

The bad news? I'm beginning to think that this supposed independent assessment on the jail's mental and medical health care issues completed by San Diego County Jail Chief Medical Officer Dr. Albert Joshua—Rita's nicknamed it "The Dr. Josh Report," which is kinda cute—is a myth. I've been wondering why it hasn't been released to the public for months now, and apparently so has 3rd District Supervisor Adam Hill.

"I would like to know when the board is going to get a copy of that," Hill asked Rita and County Administrative Officer Wade Horton during the budget discussion as this office machine silently cheered on its favorite little minx. "I just want us to make informed budget decisions in June on that issue. It's really important for us to have a good independent assessment on that."

Wait. I think my carriage return just exploded. The Board of Supervisors hasn't even seen the report!

Don't worry, Wade basically told Hill, you'll get that in August, along with staff recommendations from the team that has seen the report on just which private company to outsource health care at the jail to. Never mind that y'all are talking budgets in June and haven't seen it yet. We gave you a summary already. Just use that. Trust us! We got you!

Except, there's also an election that will be decided in June. The questions regarding health care at the jail have sparked a flaming dumpster fire that could actually wreck Sheriff Parkinson's political career. Why are sheriffs elected anyway? It's so stupid!

All the public knows about the Dr. Josh Report unicorn is this: you know that whole health care part of jail services? Well, it doesn't have good oversight. Which, duh! Case-in-point: inmate Andrew Holland strapped in a chair for almost two days in January 2017 and dying from an embolism after being unstrapped. The sheriff has repeatedly stated that he knew nothing about it until Holland was actually dying. Because that's a totally normal situation to put an inmate in—not! At least, I hope it's not. Oversight? There is none. The county didn't need to pay a consultant for that. I give my two cents for free every week!

How can supervisors make a decision to spend $2.3 million on augmenting jail services when they don't know what exactly needs to change, well, other than "oversight"? It's a management buzzword that lacks specificity. The county is projected to be $3.5 million short next year. How do we know that $2 million couldn't be better spent elsewhere?

Who has oversight over Rita, Wade, and Ian anyway? Is it the elected members of the Board of Supervisors? Doesn't look like it to me. Sounds like it's Rita, Wade, and Ian making decisions—such as hiring public relations firm AMF Media to advise the county through dumpster fire mode—while the board is left in the dark, expected to trust the tried-and-true trio that pledges allegiance to the county's best interest. Things continue to trickle out that imply the exact opposite.

"At this point, I don't have the authority to make the report public," Rita told Hill with eyes that pleaded him to shut up, shut up, shut up! "There's that balance between transparency, and improving our system ... and then the current pending claims and lawsuits ... and the best way to go about looking out for the county's best interests when it comes to litigation."

Umm, quick question: Who's supposed to authorize its release? Because I'd loooove to talk to them. You denied New Times' Public Records Act request for the Dr. Josh Report, saying it essentially falls under attorney-client privilege. I call BS!

Rita, you seem to be saying that—and please, excuse the generic term I'm about to use—there's some bad stuff in that report. It's the kind of excrement that when smeared on jail cell walls could cause the county to be liable to these inmates who have either passed away or feel that they've been treated in an inhumane manner.

However, from where I sit, there have already been public policy decisions made because of it, public money has already been spent on changes that have supposedly already been implemented at the jail based on the report's contents, and there will be a public discussion about whether or not to spend more money on a recommendation from the sheriff based on this extremely not public independent assessment. Sounds like this unicorn should absolutely be a very public document. Δ

The Shredder pledges allegiance to the people. Send comments to shredder@newtimesslo.com.

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