by John Mott Coffey from News Mississippi affiliate WQNZ
NATCHEZ, Miss.–Amid concerns of being sued by inmates, Adams County supervisors plan to get the county jail’s air tested to determine whether mold is producing toxic emissions.
“Whether it’s to a hazardous level or not, that’s something we need to answer,” said county board attorney Scott Slover. The five supervisors held a closed-door meeting Tuesday to discuss the problem.
Sheriff Chuck Mayfield and other county officials have known for a few years the jail is poorly ventilated and has mold. While some steps have been taken to address this, it’s uncertain how bad the mold is.
“If it is still a problem area, the tests should give us some direction on how to fix it,” Slover said.
The Board of Supervisors closed the public out of its discussions about the mold problem because it doesn’t want to stir up potential lawsuits alleging the county is negligently maintaining a jail sickening inmates and employees.
“The board and the county have responsibility to keep the inmates in a reasonably safe place,” Slover said. “And also we want our (Adams County Sheriff’s Office) employees in reasonably safe offices. We believe it is, but we want to confirm that.”
Mayfield said the 39-year-old county jail on State Street was built without ventilation for inmates’ showers. “With the humidity coming from the showers in the cellblocks in a period of that many years, mold has just gotten into everything,” the sheriff said.
The building also has a leaking roof along with other structural problems that county officials have been grappling with for the past couple of years.
“Mainly what we’re concerned about is trying to bring (the building) up to code,” Mayfield said. (Mold) is just one of the many problems.”
Mayfield is trying to relocate his offices into temporary quarters until supervisors decide whether to repair the jail building or construct a new facility. The board last week delayed a decision to rent the former Callon Petroleum building on Franklin and Wall streets as it tries to negotiate a lower rental rate while also looking at other buildings to use.
The board has also gotten architect Johnny Waycaster to prepare recommendations on how the existing ACSO building could be fixed and modernized. Waycaster was to meet with supervisors Tuesday, but that’s being rescheduled until later.
In closing the public out of their discussions about the jail’s mold problems, the supervisors relied on state law that allows government boards to privately discuss security and potential lawsuits. That law specifically states meetings can be closed to discuss “security personnel, plans or devices” and “strategy sessions or negotiations with respect to prospective litigation … when an open meeting would have a detrimental effect on the litigating position of the public body.”
The Board of Supervisors also kicked the public out of its meeting Tuesday to discuss Natchez Regional Medical Center’s bankruptcy litigation. The board is trying to finalize a deal this month to sell the county-owned hospital to Community Health Systems while also paying NRMC debts, which is at least $20 million. Slover said a proposed debt-payment plan has NRMC paying – at most — only 50 percent of what it owes to most bill collectors.