Kenney criticizes jail staff and investigates employee phone records

March 20, 2014
OSSIPEE — If you're a county employee on the county commissioners' weekly meeting agenda, you take your chances of being criticized or micromanaged by Commissioner Asha Kenney. This week jail staff and the human resource director were both on the agenda.

Approval of a seven-year contract for online law library access for jail inmates that included training units for jail staff was delayed after Kenney pushed for the purchase to be put out to bid. By delaying approval of the contract, the jail not only incurred $900 in advertising costs to put it out to bid, but also lost out on several bonus inclusions. Jail staff estimated at a previous commissioner's meeting that, in total, the delay will cost $27,000 over the course of the contract. Kenney disagreed with the $27,000 so she called the company, as well as another that offers similar services. When Superintendent Jason Johnson tried to explain the figures that added up to the $27,000, Kenney interrupted him. "I don't believe you. This is inaccurate. You guys are inflating all kinds of numbers here. You guys are playing and inflating the numbers. Now you're making up your own numbers," she said.

When pressed for proof of her allegations, Kenney said she does have proof and will bring it in, but presented no proof at the meeting.

Johnson did put a positive spin on the meeting by recognizing jail staff for their recent efforts. During the drug sweep in the area March 10, Johnson said his staff was recognized by the Ossipee Police Chief for a job well done and for representing the jail well when in the community. Jail staff helped to transport detainees and additional staff was called in to handle the increased workload of taking in nine inmates at one. "The officers really stepped up to the plate and did an outstanding job," said Johnson.

Johnson also pointed out that because of the vigilant efforts of jail staff, the amount of illegal substances being brought into the jail has decreased. When individuals are arrested, they are searched by police. Johnson said these searches might take place on the side of the road, in the dark, and therefore, through no fault of the officers, some items might be overlooked. Once in the jail, in a controlled well-lit environment, corrections officers also conduct a search and have, on several occasions, found and seized illegal substances. Inmates can then face additional charges for bringing those illegal substances into the jail.

Later in the March 12 meeting, Kenney was asked why she came into the county business office and requested copies of all of the human resource director's cell phone bills. She was also asked why she repeatedly refuses to sign for approval the payment of those bills.

"I thought if you had an issue, you would come to the board instead of taking the bills home and doing whatever you're doing with them… She seems to be the only one you have singled out," said Commissioner David Babson.

Kenney said she simply wanted to know how many cell phone minutes the director uses. Babson and Commissioner David Sorensen expressed the concern that, though the phone bills do not list the names of the people the director called, it does contain their phone numbers. Sorensen said county employees need to feel safe and that their calls will be kept confidential when reaching out to the human resources director.

It was clear by the end of the conversation that Kenney had more than a "minutes used" issue and the real reason she wanted the bills and won't sign the payments is she doesn't think the director should have a cell phone. "This was done under probation. Nowhere in the state in a probationary period that somebody demanded a cell phone," said Kenney. She did not, however, provide proof to back up her claim that "nobody" in the state that is under probation has a cell phone.

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