Mayor’s Staff Knew of Jail Snafu Prior to Vote 

Did the city intentionally mislead City Council into believing that the Virginia Corrections Board had approved plans for a new, $116.5 million jail?

More than three weeks after council approved Mayor Dwight Jones’ selection of Tompkins Builders and S.B. Ballard Construction Co. to build the jail, the city is working to resubmit plans to the Corrections Department to receive state funding of as much as 25 percent of the project’s cost.

During council’s July 28 meeting, city officials made no mention that they needed to resubmit the plans, even after Councilman Marty Jewell asked pointed questions about the status of state funds for the project.

At issue is the jail’s size. The Corrections Board, and later the General Assembly, approved a renovated jail for 1,032 beds, with an additional 103 beds for inmates who must be segregated from the general inmate population, says Bill Wilson, local facilities supervisor for the Virginia Corrections Department. In an email response to Style Weekly, Tammy Hawley, the mayor’s press secretary, says the state originally required an additional 48 beds for inmates needing special management and another six beds for medical purposes.

The current Tompkins/Ballard proposal includes 924 general population beds, with 108 beds for segregated inmates.

During the council meeting, Sheriff C.T. Woody was the only person who responded to Jewell’s questions concerning state funding.

“It’s my understanding that if you build 1,032 beds you would need an additional 10 percent that would be set aside for isolation and segregation beds, on top of the 1,032,” Jewell asked Woody. “You are saying that’s not true?”

“That’s not true,” Woody said. “It’s 1,032, not 1,132. It doesn’t require 10 percent more beds.” Woody added that the jail plans had been “approved by DOC.”

In The Richmond Times-Dispatch on Monday, Woody fired back at Jewell for attempting to twist his comments.

“I never gave him any statements that were untrue,” Woody told the T-D. “I think Marty Jewell was trying to confuse the situation and trying to get a new interpretation from me.”

It’s unclear whether Woody was aware that the city needed to resubmit the plans for approval. He didn’t return Style’s call seeking comment by press time.

But someone at City Hall knew about the need to regain state approval prior to the July 28 council meeting. In a letter to Jones and City Council President Kathy Graziano dated Aug. 3, Peter Decker, chairman of the Virginia Corrections Board, refers to a conversation with Suzette Denslow, the mayor’s chief of staff, on July 25.

Decker writes that he informed Denslow that the current Tompkins/Ballard proposal “varies significantly” from the one approved in 2009 and would need to be reviewed by the Corrections Department before the new proposal could gain approval from the board.

The size of the jail is important because the state uses the number of general beds — in this case, 924 — to calculate state funding for deputies. Staffing approved in 2009 was based on 1,032 beds, Wilson says: “They could lose up to 35 of those positions because the rated capacity is 108 beds less than it was.”

The other issue is whether the city intentionally misled council members — or simply was unaware — at the July 28 meeting.

“It’s very obvious that the administration knew about this on July 25. They didn’t come forward with this information,” Councilman Bruce Tyler says. “There were several things that they misled us on, and that was one of them.”

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