To every issue there is more than one side, and to get to the truth of the matter, one should only seek the facts. The Marshall County Commission and the Marshall County Sheriff’s Office are facing serious issues with Marshall County Jail. Marshall County Commission Chairman James Hutcheson and Marshall County Sheriff Scott Walls may not agree on every point, but they all agree that changes are in order.
Walls said the Marshall County Commission has been helpful over the time that he has been sheriff.
“The commission has not been bad to the sheriff’s office in the past 12 years, they helped with the fencing, they paid for the fence, and I put in the razor wire, the screens and the signs, so it was a joint effort there,” Walls said. “The lock system was worn out, and they put a new lock system in jail. I can’t say that the commission’s not given us physical things that we need. They have given us five cars every year, but every budget year, I have given money back then I have saved. They didn’t just give me cars, they come from the money that I saved. They’ve been great about that. What we sale and what we save, that’s how the cars come about. That’s a program that needs to continue.”
Hutcheson said the commission has funded many projects to upgrade the sheriff’s office’s facility. This both parties agree on.
“The commission spent $220,000 for a new lock system,” Hutcheson said. “We put in a new cafeteria large enough to feed 350 people, new industrial washers and dryers, new AC and heating unit and new fencing that costs $53,000. I am not going to sit here and let anyone say that we’re not doing our job, because we’re doing our job. I don’t know of anything that the sheriff has asked us for that we turned down. We couldn’t change the pay scale, because it’s not in our power to do so. We have zero control over that.”
The pay scale for jailers and other positions are a hot topic of discussion for the sheriff’s office.
“Because of low pay, we can’t get jailors trained, because we can’t keep them here long enough,” Walls said. “If you’re paying $10.91 an hour, starting pay for a jailor, but you can go to Publix and make $15 an hour and you’re not in there locked up with a bunch of killers, then no wonder we can’t keep jailors.”
In reference to the jailer verses Publix workers, Hutcheson said one shouldn’t compare “apples to oranges” to be fair.
“For Marshall County employees the cost for individual coverage is zero dollars and $125 for family coverage,” Hutcheson said. “If you go to Publix, they’ll only hire you part-time, and you won’t find benefits like this. It’s a full-time job, and we’ve never had a lay-off here in Marshall County, as far as I’m concerned. So, a county job may not start out at much, but it’s a good place to work. You have good benefits, you have good retirement, but it’s up to each department head to make each department a good environment to work, because no matter what you pay the people, you have to have a good environment to work.”
Walls said if he could offer higher pay and more incentives, the retention rate of employees would increase. Hutcheson said if any department head believes the pay scale for a position should be altered, then it is that department head’s duty to justify that to the Marshall County Personnel Board.
Hutcheson said there are proper procedures put into place to assist all Marshall County employees. He explained that there is a third-party that sets the pay scales, and the personnel board gets this information. After the personnel board set this pay scale, the commission then votes to approve the funding of this pay scale. He said every department head understands that the proper procedure to change a position is to consult the third-party to review a position and then to get the personnel board to consider a change. If the change is approved, then the commission puts the funding change to a vote.
“We tell all of the department heads that if they have any issues with any of their jobs, like if they feel like a job isn’t rated correctly, petition this with the personnel board,” Hutcheson said. “The personnel board is a kind of a mediator, and it’s the only entity that can recommend a pay change. We’ve never refused what they recommended.”
Walls said the county needs to address funding before there will be any changes for the Marshall County Sheriff’s Office.
“I would say that the future of the sheriff’s office is going to become more and more difficult without resources,” Walls said. “We, as a county, are not developing more resources. To fix the current issue, the commission needs to hire in mass, make every person a deputy sheriff or increase pay to try to attract good candidates.”
Hutcheson and Walls want to continue to do everything in their power to address the issues with the jail, but time will tell how much can be done before Phil Sims takes over as Marshall County’s new sheriff.
“This is my problem until January 14, and we are going to keep it safe and keep it clean,” Walls said. “We’re going to take care of it and we’re going to leave good records for the next man. I hope that he has great luck.”