Sheriff installing video, Internet visitations for inmates
Gary Pinnell | Highlands TodaySEBRING - Commissioners heard about the resignation of the health department director, a proposed Internet visitation method in the jail, and a way to keep the county attorney from spending so much time at meetings.
Published: August 8, 2012
Published: August 8, 2012
Robert Palussek informed the Highlands County commissioners that he is resigning to accept a position as associate administrator of Highlands Regional Medical Center.
Palussek has been director of Highlands County Health Department since December 2008.
"You have a financially stable county health department," said Palussek, an accountant who was promoted to the position when Dr. Paula Thaqi left to take the job in Broward County.
Palussek did not know whom the state would appoint in his place, but introduced Barbara Turner, who was deputy director and director of nursing of the Madison County Health Department in Kentucky.
The Highlands County Health Department provided over 128,000 services to almost 13,000 clients during 33,000 visits at three locations, and 73,000 services at the schools. The dental program has been expanded since 2008.
The jail is installing a new video visitation system that will allow more family members access to inmates, but it will include a way to visit on the Internet, Sheriff Susan Benton said.
The jail has been enlarged several times over the years, so larger and more secure visitation areas were required by the state, Benton said. She ordered a new phone system that will produce about $250,000 of the revenue that is paying for the video visitation system, she said.
"We generate revenue when inmates make phone calls," she said. The new system will allow jailors to monitor video and Internet visitations for inappropriate conversations.
The commissioners accepted the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant, which Benton said "is put to absolutely awesome use."
Often, inmates commit non-violent crimes, they're off their meds, or they're self-medicating with other drugs, Benton said. A behavioral health case manager who works with Tri-County Substance Abuse monitors inmates with mental illnesses or substance abuse.
Inmates or outpatients may be required to call every day, go to group counseling or AA meetings, go to their doctors or take their meds. At the end of the year, if the inmates meet their contractual obligations, charges may be dropped and they may graduate from the program.
"It adds such a level of accountability for people who have no family support system," the sheriff said. "So I just wanted to tell you that this tiny bit of money buys huge power."
Asked by Commissioner Ron Handley if some of the Avon Park Police personnel would be hired, Benton said she planned to fill every officer and civilian slot with current personnel, "unless they totally mess up on the polygraph."
She's also saving open slots at the sheriff's department for Avon Park civilians. Avon Park officers will come with their guns and other equipment, she said.
County Attorney Ross Macbeth asked the commissioners for an additional $20,000, which means he will bill the county about $315,000 this year.
"We have Ross here for all of our budget workshops," Commissioner Don Elwell commented. The last one lasted seven hours.
"Maybe it's the most effective use of his salary and his time to have him sitting here," Elwell said, but do the county commissioners need their attorney, gavel to gavel, at every meeting?
Macbeth, who bills about $187 per hour, doesn't need to be there, for instance, for the pledge of allegiance and the prayer. Perhaps, Elwell wondered, Macbeth could work at his office and merely conference call or Skype when he needs to appear at the meetings.
If it costs the same for Macbeth to work at his office or come to the meetings, Commissioner Ron Handley preferred the attorney to attend.
Commissioner Barbara Stewart said that previous commissioners have met in workshops, where they expected to take no action. It might not be necessary for Macbeth to attend workshops, she said.
However, she wanted Macbeth there to keep the commissioners out of Sunshine Law troubles. "If we are going to make decisions, it's important that Ross is here."
Since the termination of County Administrator Rick Helms, Assistant County Administrator June Fisher has been filling both roles. That means when she's out of the county, Highlands County has no employee empowered by the board to sign papers.
She chose Development Services Director Mark Hill, which the commissioners ratified with nods.
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