By ZIVA BRANSTETTER
The city of Sand Springs plans to sue Tulsa County, Sheriff Stanley Glanz and the county’s Criminal Justice Authority to resolve questions about how jail taxes are being spent, records show.
Sand Springs city councilors unanimously approved a resolution Monday authorizing the city’s attorney to file suit against “all necessary parties including the TCCJA, Tulsa County, the Tulsa County Sheriff and all beneficiary cities and towns to determine the rights and responsibilities of the city concerning operations of the jail.”
Sand Springs is a beneficiary of the public trust created to administer the sales tax passed in 1995 to build and operate the David L. Moss jail. The city’s mayor, Mike Burdge, is one of seven trustees on the authority, along with Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett, Owasso Mayor Jeri Moberly, Glenpool Mayor Momodou Ceesay and the three county commissioners.
Burdge, also a Sand Springs city council member, did not vote on the resolution because he sits on the county criminal justice authority.
The resolution states that “numerous disputes exist between Tulsa County, the Tulsa County Sheriff and various beneficiary cities concerning the administration of the proceeds and the operations of the jail.”
“Although attempts have been made to resolve some of the differences between the County, the Sheriff and the Beneficiaries, legal issues exist that can only be clearly and completely resolved by legal action amongst the parties, with a Court to determine the legal rights of the various parties involved and affected by the operation of the jail.”
For the past year, the trustees have debated how best to oversee spending of the jail tax and ensure it is being spent for jail operations. An investigation by The Frontier found that since 2012, Glanz’s office had spent at least $700,000 and possibly up to $1 million from jail funds to pay outside law firms to defend civil rights lawsuits against his office.
Bartlett, Burdge and Moberly signed and sent a 41-page letter to the other four trustees on June 15 taking issue with how the jail funds are being spent. The letter outlines examples of what it says were improper expenditures by Glanz’s office of jail tax money, including travel and training, legal fees, automobiles and salaries of employees not related to jail operations.
The letter urged the Criminal Justice Authority to delay its vote on next fiscal year’s budget and seek an investigation of how jail funds are being spent. After a lengthy and sometimes heated discussion, the authority voted 4-2 to approve the $36.4 million budget.
Sand Springs city attorney David Weatherford said that vote was the catalyst for the city’s decision to pursue legal action. Weatherford said the new budget removes from the authority’s supervison $7.5 million that should fund jail operations and places those funds under supervision of the Board of County Commissioners.
Weatherford said now that the city council has expressed support for the lawsuit, the city will determine whether the other beneficiaries of the trust, including the city of Tulsa, want to join the lawsuit when it is filed. He said he hopes the suit can answer questions regarding what the jail tax can be used to fund, whether there have been improper expenditures in the past and if so, whether they should be repaid to the authority.
He said he hopes the suit can also resolve whether all money generated by the tax should flow directly to the Tulsa County Criminal Justice Authority.
“We believe there’s plenty of money to run the jail if they use all of the tax to run the jail,” he said.
County Commissioner John Smaligo, a member of the Criminal Justice Authority, was not aware of the action by Sand Springs until Wednesay after The Frontier asked the county for comment.
“I’m extremely disappointed that they’ve taken this aggressive action against the Criminal Justice Authority. … To my knowledge the only objection the mayor of Sand Springs has raised is a single vote against the budget.”
He said the action by Sand Springs is clearly an effort to sue on behalf of the city of Tulsa, so the city doesn’t have to be in the position of suing the county.
Records show the jail tax generated about $26 million in fiscal years 2014 and 2015 but expenses charged to the jail totalled $36 million and $38 million respectively. An $8.3 million deficit is also forecast for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
The county plans to make up the difference with a combination of revenue from jail contracts to hold federal prisoners, revenue generated by various fees and a $2 million contribution from the county’s budget board.
Sand Springs Police Chief Mike Carter said after the jail tax was approved in 1995, the county used a combination of sources — including money from the general fund and the sheriff’s budget — to fund jail operations. Over time, those other sources of money have been siphoned away “and now (the sheriff’s office is) looking for new revenue sources,” Carter said.
Oversight of the tax fund spending is now split among the board of county commissioners, the sheriff’s office and the criminal justice authority — leading to less continuity in decision making, he said.
Carter said the city wants to be sure the sheriff does not resurrect his plan to charge the suburbs for holding inmates held without charges in the jail.
The sheriff sent a letter to area law enforcement agencies last year saying that, as of July 1, 2014, he would not accept municipal inmates into the jail unless charges have been filed or the municipalities agree to pay for them. Glanz also proposed that municipalities pay $64.13 per day per inmate, instead of the $44 to $55 he had previously suggested.
In a letter responding to Glanz’s action, eight city attorneys said Glanz had no authority to define a municipal inmate or to set rates. Those issues are the responsibility of the Criminal Justice Authority and the county commissioners, the attorneys say.
Carter said the city of Sand Springs is not seeking control of the money or any benefit “other than we want all revenues, all expenditures, all liabilities run through TCCJA.”
“Our fear is at the end of this thing our citizens are going to be double taxed.”