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'Accounts frozen': Commissioners halt Nash County Sheriff's Office spending after flunked jail inspection

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As sheriff's deputies worked to move the bulk of the inmate population at the Nash County Detention Center to other detention facilities as directed by state officials, county commissioners dealt the department another hard blow — by cutting off all Nash County Sheriff's Office spending accounts.

According to a Monday email from Nash County Finance Manager Donna Wood addressed to Sheriff Keith Stone, "All purchases by the Sheriffs will be approved by the County Manager and Finance Director (non-essential items will not be approved)."

The email indicated that the move was being made due to a request made by the Board of Commissioners on Monday.

"We are a 24-hour-a-day operation that is tasked with keeping the citizens of Nash County safe," said sheriff's Maj. Miste Strickland. "And we just had all of our accounts frozen." 

According to the email, all sheriff's office procurement cards had been deactivated and no non-emergency purchases would be approved. All invoices from the sheriff's office will be keyed by the county finance office instead of the through the sheriff's office, and all purchase orders not associated with contracts will be closed.

The email also indicated that starting on Monday, the county will not authorize payment for any item purchased without previous approval from the county manager and finance director. 

Fuel cards for patrol vehicles will not be affected.

"We are now required to submit every single expense in writing for approval," said Strickland. "I had blood on my uniform shirt today that I will now have to pay for personally to have cleaned, but it is bio-hazard and cannot wait for an approval process to go to the cleaners."

The move came as a shock to sheriff's office staffers who expected to see a freeze on spending at the detention facility until it could be brought up to state standards, but not a complete department freeze, especially with county staff who would approve expenditures being off three days for the Christmas holiday.

"We expected to see something at the jail, but this was completely unexpected," said Strickland. "This puts citizens at risk."

At issue is an inspection report received from the state dated Dec. 10 that points out multiple deficiencies at the detention facility in Nashville. The facility's last major update was 23 years ago, the facility itself is 40 years old.

CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE INSPECTION REPORT

The report cited numerous electrical, structural and operational issues such as non-working fire panels and smoke detectors, damaged and nonworking HVAC units, sprinkler system issues and severe understaffing.

The state directed the department to reduce the inmate population to no more than 56 inmates until fire code violations, electrical hazards, safety hazards and short-staffing issues have been corrected, costing the county up to $11,000 per day to house the relocated inmates.

Stone and county commissioners have been at odds over how the facility should be brought up to date for several months, with Stone asking for additional funding after two successful escapes in 2019 through a compromised fence system in the facility's yard, with one also going through a malfunctioning or sabotaged door.

Inmates have also been successful in starting fires using electrical outlets and light fixtures. Stone has pointed to the condition of the facility as a core reason for not being able to fill open jail staff positions.

The county manager's office was closed when the email and inspection were obtained. 

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