Center director in limbo

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 23, 2001

With less than three months until the projected opening of the new juvenile justice center, Adams County supervisors have decided not to allow Natchez Police Chief Willie Huff to direct the center’s detention unit.

Because of the short timeframe and the deadlines imposed by the county’s ongoing budget process, supervisors say they did not have time to work out the terms of an updated interlocal agreement with the Natchez Board of Aldermen. That agreement would have allowed Huff to serve as director of the center.

&uot;Time is a major factor — time and trying to reach an agreement with the city,&uot; said Supervisor Darryl Grennell.

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County officials decided they needed to give Adams County Youth Court Judge John Hudson the time to hire an administrator/director and 10 detention officers that will need to be trained prior to Dec. 1.

&uot;It’s not Chief (Willie) Huff,&uot; said Supervisor Lynwood Easterling. &uot;Whoever that director would be — the time factor wasn’t there.&uot;

Huff said he was disappointed to hear the news.

&uot;I hate it, and we’ll be glad to work with Judge (John) Hudson to give him whatever help he needs to get this facility on-line at the last minute,&uot; Huff said.

Because of the short time remaining, Huff said it’s going to be difficult to get the juvenile justice center ready for operation on Dec. 1. &uot;I hate that this happened this late in the game,&uot; Huff said.

The Natchez Board of Alderman agreed several years ago to pay $50,000 a year to the Adams County Board of Supervisors to operate the juvenile justice center. This summer, the boards agreed to reduce that amount to $40,000 if the aldermen allowed Huff to act as the center’s direction.

However, the boards were unable to reach an agreement on inflationary adjustments to that base amount.

&uot;What $50,000 would buy in 1994 or 1996 is obviously more than it would buy in 2001,&uot; said Marion Smith, county attorney.

Negotiation takes time, so supervisors decided Friday to take Huff out of the equation. They think they should be able to find a suitable alternative.

&uot;There are people that’s in our community and elsewhere that can run it I feel as well as Chief (Willie) Huff,&uot; said Supervisor Thomas &uot;Boo&uot; Campbell.

Hudson said county officials opted against hiring a private company to operate the center because that can add $20,000 to $27,000 to the annual cost.

He plans to hire an administrator/director by the beginning of October. That person will be responsible for the duties Huff would have performed along with the onsite day-to-day operations of the center, Hudson said.

Hudson said he was disappointed that Huff could not act as director but he had always had contingency plans in place.

&uot;You kind of have a shadow plan in place all the time so you’re not totally out of the water when something like this happens,&uot; Hudson said.

The supervisors also decided Friday against opening the detention component of the center until Dec. 1 at one point even discussing a Jan. 1, 2002, opening date.

Since the building may not be completed until October, the delayed opening gies detention officers time for training in November. County employees who perform support staff for the youth court should still be able to move into the building in November, Grennell said.

The decision aids supervisors, who must set a realistic start date for budgeting purposes, Grennell said. Without that date, county officials likely would allocate unneeded money to the center’s budget.

&uot;We don’t want to put a lot of extra money in the budget,&uot; Grennell said.

The supervisors have also decided to bid out the food services component of the detention center. The food can not be prepared at the Adams County Jail for liability reasons, Grennell said. Adams County put $33,000 in its budget for that expense.