Editor’s Note: This is the second article in a two-part series on the interview conducted with Brown County Judge Ray West.
Contract workers have been installing walls, floors and a new reception area in what use to be a recreation room in Unit 2 since March 4, but they are working for Brown County, not G4S.
“There are two distinct aspects of the Brown County Juvenile Justice Center,” Brown County Judge Ray West said. “The part being leased, and the part that the county will continue to occupy.”
While a majority of the space of Unit 2 is included on the lease, there are five offices, a conference room, a reception area and six to eight holding cells that will remain under Brown County’s control, West said. In order to better separate the two entities, construction needed to be done in order to make a clear barrier between the two.
“We will still have the juvenile probation offices and county hold over facility in Unit 2,” West said. “The lease is not for the entire building, it’s for everything outside of our offices.”
J.R. Williams, former juvenile probation chief, had previously disclosed to the court the work that needed to be completed and even informed the court he was able to find the funds needed to complete the project if they could find a
contractor who would do the work for the funds available, West said.
“J.R. was able to allot funds of almost $50,000 to fund this project,” West said. “We managed to find a contractor who would complete the work within that budget.”
When G4S personnel visited the facility the first week of February, an independent contractor offered to complete the probation office’s work within the amount available.
West said, “I made it clear to the contractor that this project [probation office] was independent of the G4S bid and if G4S failed to get the bid then his only work would be the probation offices.”
A question was raised whether or not West had the legal authority to hire the contractor for the project.
“I have approached the county attorney and counsel for the Texas Association of Counties and they both confirmed that I had that authority,” West said. “Department heads may make those decisions. As the chairman of the Brown County Juvenile Board, I had the legal authority to hire the contractor for the probation office work.”
In 2010, West was the chairman of the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission, and in that position, he attended conferences, fund-raisers and outside facilities. During his time as chair, West first met the management staff with Rite of Passage.
“I got an invitation to tour the Rite of Passage’s facility in Phoenix and to participate in a golf tournament fund-raiser that helps support their programs,” West said. “The invitation included the hotel and airfare accommodations.”
Rite of Passage also hosted other probation chief officers and other department heads in the juvenile field across the state and nation, West said. Also in attendance was Jerry Madden, who at the time was the chairman of the House Corrections Committee.
Along with participating in the tournament, some of the participants were given a tour of the Arizona facility, West said. Unlike some more restricted facilities, Rite of Passage has an open structured program, which includes no fences.
West and Williams have attended the Rite of Passage fund-raiser in 2010 through 2012 and have been attending several Rite of Passage functions each year.
“They wanted to showcase their program in order to encourage state and local officials to use their services,” West said. “During our visit, we heard some of their success stories including a student who had received a full scholarship to Arizona State University as a baseball pitcher and as an honor student.”
Before Unit 2 of the Ron Jackson state school was transferred to Brown County in early 2012, West’s visits to the Rite of Passage facility were related to his responsibilities as TJPC chairman. After the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission and the Texas Youth Commission merged, West’s interests were related to his position as the Brown County Juvenile Judge.
“When that happened, my focus changed,” West said. “I started to see what type of program could come to Brown County.”
In late October 2012, Rite of Passage management visited Brownwood to tour Unit 2 and to meet with officials with the Brownwood Chamber of Commerce, City of Brownwood, Brownwood Economical Development Corp. and other local agencies to discuss incentives available to Rite of Passage if they came to Brownwood. West also mentioned they discussed the employment base in Brownwood.
West first met Jim Hill, president of G4S, during a visit he made to Brownwood last summer to tour Unit 2.
“J.R. was very active in the statewide probation field, and he knows numerous people and their facilities,” West said. “G4S contacted J.R. after they [G4S] learned we had a detention facility that was far larger than our needs.”
According to West, G4S received the same tour of Unit 2 as Rite of Passage. Although they could not meet with the officials at that time to discuss incentives, they returned to discuss incentives and employment base in late 2012, West said.
In November 2012, officials with G4S hosted West and Williams for a tour of four of their facilities, and to meet some of their students in Tampa, Fl.
“We toured as many facilities as we could,” West said. “We ate meals their students in the culinary program prepared — it was impressive.”
While West and Williams were on their visits to Rite of Passage and G4S, West states members of the commissioners’ court were aware of the visits.
“They were fully aware of the trips, where I was and why I was there,” West said. “There were no secrets about it. As the juvenile judge, I felt it was necessary to exercise due diligence before making a commitment to either of these companies.”
In reference to allegations made about not having the authority to have closed meeting discussions on the leasing of the property, West assures members of the commissioners’ court have been following the procedure established by the Texas Local Government Code.
On March 11, the commissioners’ court met in closed session to discuss the lease of Unit 2, which is allowed under the Texas Local Government Code Section 551.072 which states, “A governmental body may conduct a closed meeting to deliberate the purchase, exchange, lease or value of real property if deliberation in an open meeting would have a detrimental effect on the position of the governmental body in negotiations with a third person.”
As a public official, West believes he is held to a higher standard than other citizens. With allegations made, deputies with the Brown County Sheriff’s Office have been following the issue in commissioners’ court and making preliminary inquiries to determine if any improper or illegal activity has taken place.
“Any time a complaint is made, whether it’s against or about a public official, the Sheriff’s Office must look into the allegations,” West said. “I invite the inquiry and it’s imperative that it’s conducted thoroughly. It would be inappropriate and more suspicious for them [Sheriff’s Office] not to investigate.”