Missing Items Questioned

After weeks of debate, Smith County Sheriff J.B. Smith has asked the Federal Government to look into its contract with the county. The county entered into the agreement with the U.S. Marshal's office in 1987. It says the county will house federal prisoners for a fee. The federal government has also been donating surplus materials to the county. In recent weeks, the location of some of those donated items have come into question. That question quickly became the center of the commissioners court meeting Monday. After addressing the court, Sheriff Smith said he's confident he's doing the right thing.

"We're meeting federal standards and doing exactly what the United States Marshal's office has told us to do," Smith said.

The court has asked Sheriff Smith to provide of list of all the property, given to the county by the federal government, Smith say's that's almost impossible because much of what they get is unusable. "95 % of the property that we've gotten from the federal government has been discarded by them and it takes us, for example lawnmowers, it took 70 lawnmowers to make three good ones."

He says items like the leftover mowers are simply discarded and cannot be accounted for. County Judge Becky Dempsey says they should be and believes the sheriff may even be violating the federal contract.

"The contract we have with the federal government specifically states that before we get rid of any surplus equipment they have to know about it," she said. "Whether it was worthless or not is immaterial because you either abide by the contract or you don't."

Judge Dempsey says the commissioners court is not trying to put the sheriff on the hot seat she just wants the county to be responsible.

"(The court) wants to assure the public that business is being taken care of and we are being good stewards of whatever it is that comes into the possession of the county and I'd like to eliminate any questions that they might have."

Sheriff Smith says he's willing to do whatever it takes to make sure that happens.

"If the commissioners court wants an additional inventory list, we'll be more than happy to comply and do exactly what they wish us to do," Smith said.

Calling for an inquiry by the U.S. Marshal's service is one way Sheriff Smith hopes to clear the air. County Commissioners say this is an issue they're not going to let fall through the cracks. They plan to continue the discussion next month.

Chris Gibson, reporting