PC Board

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Questions posed at county bid opening

By Billy Davis

A routine bid opening for food service at the Panola County jail included questions about its past operation.

Panola County supervisors, meeting in Sardis Monday, opened three bids for the feeding of approximately 100 state and county inmates.

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The county board, as expected, voted to take under advisement bids from Court Street Catering, Gregory Draper, and ABL, Inc.

Prisoners’ meals have been provided for many years by Reed Buntin of Batesville, whose food service contract is set to expire June 30.

Buntin also writes bail bonds but under a new state law will not be allowed to perform both services, County Administrator Kelley Magee told The Panolian.

The new state law takes effect July 1, leading to the last date of Buntin’s contract. The new contract will provide food service through 2011, Magee said.

Court Street, with a bid of $1.20 per meal, appeared to be the lowest bid, with Draper bidding $1.24 per meal.

ABL, in a multi-page bid, submitted two menus and a graduated scale whose cost dropped according to inmate population. Its prices included $1.43 per meal for 76 to 100 inmates.

ABL spokesman Craig Morin further described the bids to the county board, describing the choice of a standard menu and an “upscale” menu.

The matter had moved on until Panola County resident Gary Ramsey, who had asked to speak, said some prisoners have been paid for working in the jail’s kitchen.

Ramsey claimed first-hand knowledge, saying he had worked part-time in the kitchen as recently as 2007.

He named three prisoners by name as Chief Deputy Andy Estridge listened and wrote down the names.

Ramsey also alleged inappropriate contact between male inmates and the opposite sex on the jail grounds.

The kitchen workers are trusties who receive a day off their jail sentence for every day they work on behalf of the county. Other trusties work in and around the jail, and at other county jobs.

Ramsey’s public comments prompted Court Street owner Sheila Pounders to seek reassurance from supervisors that the current bids included free inmate labor from the jail trusties.

“There’s no mention in the bid of salary. Am I correct?” Pounders asked.

“That’s correct,” answered Magee.

Ramsey’s comment was made in the absence of Sheriff Otis Griffin, who is attending an annual convention of Mississippi sheriffs on the Gulf Coast.

A questionable incident in 2007 would have preceded Griffin’s appointment as sheriff.

Two current sheriff’s candidates, Dennis Darby and Phillip Herron, were in attendance at the board meeting.