Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Voters can't know details of Tyler jail until after election day

Are jail proponents now trying to kill their own plan in Tyler?

I can only wonder in amazement at the foolishness behind the Smith County Commissioners Court's decision to sue the Attorney General over whether they can conceal detailed plans of the jail they're asking voters to finance. It's almost as though they've thought better of the jail plan and are insisting on extra secrecy to sabotage the deal.

Otherwise, if you want me to pay for something but won't tell me the details about what you're doing, I'd vote "no" on principle, no matter what the topic. That's how I predict Smith County voters will respond to this decision, which ensures the details won't come out until after voters have made their choice.

It's pretty ballsy that folks who planned the jail in secret, then sprung the election on voters with little public debate, now want their constituents to vote without getting to see plans that would be public in any other jurisdiction in Texas. (After all, the AG interprets the open records act for the whole state.) Voters can only wonder, as the What Part of No Don't You Understand Blog asked, "What do these people have to hide? Has the cover up begun?"

Sheriff J.B. Smith wants to pretend this A.G. decision was somehow unique, but voters seek information about jail plans in virtually every contested jail election. Since every other jail in the state must abide by the same requirements, why hasn't it harmed their security? The law on this has been the same for nearly 40 years.

For that matter, the county will have to show the detailed plans to Wall Street bond houses in order to get financing approved and the world is seeing that there are plenty of crooks in that crowd! Why do they trust Wall Street more than voters?

In the biggest picture this is a theoretical debate, though certainly J.B. Smith doesn't understand that. The two competing theories are "security through obscurity," where security comes from keeping secrets, and a more modern concept of open-sourced security, which was developed in the computer realm but has been brought to public security debates by people like Bruce Schneier.

The latter view holds that the more people who look at plans and scrutinize them for security flaws, the more likely you are to anticipate mistakes. Even if authorities keep plans secret, they're only secret until one person lets them out - either through incompetence or corruption, it doesn't matter. According to the "security through obscurity" view, that would be an irreparable tragedy. If security problems are open sourced, though, instead of hidden, security solutions must be strong enough to overcome any weaknesses caused by the flaws. That outcome is better for everybody in the long run and is the best safety argument for making the information public.

The best political argument for complying with the law probably comes straight from preamble to the Public Information Act:
Under the fundamental philosophy of the American constitutional form of representative government that adheres to the principle that government is the servant and not the master of the people, it is the policy of this state that each person is entitled, unless otherwise expressly provided by law, at all times to complete information about the affairs of government and the official acts of public officials and employees. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.
The Smith County Commissioners Court and Sheriff Smith think it's up to them "to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know." I'm guessing that, on election day, voters will inform them that they don't appreciate such an arrogant attitude by their elected officials.


Anonymous said...

In most Texas jails and in accordance with required TCJS life safety issues, evacuations plans are posted throught the jail, not just in one location.

And at each location is a diagram posted on the wall of the particular area you are in. Inmates pass by these postings from time to time and have an opportunity to see these diagrams.

Keeping the layout of the facility is no secret to someone who is planning an escape.

Facility security is more about jail staff constantly inspecting living dorms, safety corridors, hallways, recreation areas, locks and work areas to name a few.

It's about detecting unusual sounds, inmate comments, looking for chipped paint, concrete dust, and metal filings.

It's about conducting informal bed checks and hourly face to face contact with each and every inmate by planning a variety of routes and times when making rounds.

Escapes have not occurred and contraband does not get into facilities because new jail plans were made public. Rather it's because staff becomes indifferent when it comes to following TCJS standards and employee training.

Anonymous said...

Nice information TJake. Funny how that works right?

If you do your jobs, then less opportunity occurs. I wonder if the guys in the legislature will ever figure that out as well..

Ryan Paige said...

I assume they watched Season One of Prison Break and are deeply concerned about people tattooing the jail plans on their bodies before getting sent to the facility and using that information for a overly-complicated escape (as the theme from the show "House" plays).

Anonymous said...

Sheriff J. B. Smith knows what is good for J. B. Alcohol, women, gambling, and wrapping his years of influence roots around the once honest souls of men and women. This Mindfreak rivals Criss Angel. He could come awake from a coma with a scotch in one hand and poker chips in the other and from his mouth lies.

The law and jail system in Tyler and Smith County all boils down to money. But citizens, they can not take it with them and one day they will answer for "their" crimes.

Anonymous said...

Yes you are right Anonymous10/14/2008 08:10:00 AM, about when opportunity occurs.

And your right about the legislature. Do you know about "ghost voting?" Where one legislator casts a votes for another legislator who is absent. That should be a crime.

Talk about opportunity!

Anonymous said...

Two things you can always count on in Smith County - Corruption and hypocrisy.

Anonymous said...

Leave JB alone. Why would anyone question jis motives?

I recall a couple of years ago he was so concerned about the safety of his officers that he allowed cell door locks that didn't work to go unrepaired until the media did a story on the problem.

Also, a few years back he was so concerned with officer safety that he was going to allow a man who had been caught selling and using drugs while on duty to continue to work in a supervisory position. Again it took the media to get him to do the right thing.

How could you question the motives of someone who "lost" more than a million dollars in surplus property?

And, of course, several years ago members of his department were not accepting gifts and bribes from bail bondsmen even though a couple of officers testified before a grand jury that they did.

Oh, and by the way, I'm sure bribes from the commissary vendor were never being funneled through the K-9 account (even though canceled checks prove it).

Why should we now question his motives in wanting to conceal information from the voters?