“Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it."
- George Santayana (paraphrased)
We are in the midst of a disagreement about the County Road Bond. I believe it is useful to revisit the last major county project, what we were told and how that project was handled to have an idea of what we as taxpayers are being asked to believe about this road bond. That project was the Joe Corley Jail.
The Jail, which had been occupied since approximately August of 2008, entered the public conscience when it did not have a sufficient amount of County Prisoners to satisfy the IRS requirements for County Prisoner Occupancy to maintain the tax exempt status of the bonds issued for its construction. In early 2013, it was stated or implied that the Joe Corley had to have at least 30% occupancy by County Prisoners by August. The Commissioner’s Court announced that because of this situation, in order to not forfeit the favorable tax status, they were exploring selling the Jail.
I am a person that believes in the principle of Occam’s razor which says that the simplest solution is often the best. I started asking questions as to why they didn’t just transfer the required amount of prisoners from the County Jail to Joe Corley. I received explanations that Joe Corley was not configured to either have County prisoners or configured to have both Federal and non-Federal Prisoners. That because of this configuration problem, there was insufficient time between January and August 2013 to reconfigure the Joe Corley to continue the favorable tax status.
At the time, I thought, “How could they miss this”? and “Who missed this”? Since the Montgomery County Jail Financing Corporation (MCJFC) was responsible for financing the Joe Corley, I expect that would be the place where responsibility lay. In reality, the ultimate responsibility rested with The Commissioner’s Court since the MCJFC was, by its Articles of Incorporation, the members of the Court. I decided to look into it using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
What I found was deeply disturbing. I came to the conclusion that the Court was either totally incompetent or willingly entered into or were manipulated into a scheme to benefit GEO, the operator of Joe Corley while the County owned it. They are now the new owner of Joe Corley.
This sordid tale begins with the County Jail which at the time was approaching legal prisoner capacity. It was determined that a second jail needed to be built which would handle the excess capacity from the County Jail. We would use it for our overflow prisoners and any excess capacity would be used by mainly Federal prisoners either from the US Marshal or from Immigration (ICE). Concurrently, it was decided to pursue tax favorable status for the Bonds that were to build the Joe Corley. In order to get that status, the County/MCJFC would have to seek a letter ruling from the IRS determining that the way the building was being used was not, in effect, a “business enterprise”. That would mean being used for County needs and not just to sell space to others who needed prison capacity. You will see that this tax favorable status permitted a gradual filling of the Joe Corley by County Prisoners.
The First step for the County was to request from the IRS a “Private Letter Ruling”. They do this by disclosing the planned usage of the Joe Corley that would justify their getting tax favorable status. In this September 2006 letter, the County and MCJFC requested through their Attorneys, Fulbright Jaworski, that the IRS grant them this status based on the following key representations:
- County’s rate of population growth will continue.
- “County’s detention facilities are approaching maximum capacity”.
- “County will enter into a development agreement…to construct…a detention facility with approximately 1100 beds”.
- “The Jail will be constructed and operated in...