To help you feel more connected to and involved with your County government, each week I'll be sharing with you the report that I present at the County Council meetings. You are welcome to attend County Council meetings; they are open to the public and feature time for public comment.
Below is the County Executive Report I delivered during the February 25, 2020 County Council meeting.
Thank you, Lisa, and good afternoon, everyone.
Over the past few weeks, there has been a lot of attention on the selection process for the contract for phone services at the Justice Center. We are confident the best bid won the contract.
Before you vote on it and before we release any documents related to the process, I want to be clear about a couple of things.
First, this contract is one example of how we have changed the rules in St. Louis County government.
Under the old rules:
But we are operating under new rules:
Number One: We treat everyone — including inmates — with dignity and respect. County government will no longer seek to make a profit off inmate phone calls, but will instead prioritize the ability of inmates to get out of an incarcerated setting and get back on their feet.
Number Two: County contracts go to the best bid, regardless of the bidder’s politics and with no political manipulation. After setting the vision for what the general priorities should be, nobody in my office manipulated or interfered with the RFP process whatsoever.
And, Number Three: We value the truth. We value integrity. And when the integrity of the RFP process is threatened by people who distort the truth, we will act appropriately to correct the record.
And we are starting to get recognition for this RFP. On February 7, the Prison Policy Initiative, a nonprofit focusing on criminal justice reform, published an article about “Best Practices for Phone RFPs” — and guess whose RFP they quoted and referenced as a best practice? That’s right, St. Louis County’s.
So we should be proud of the work our procurement office did on this contract. We should be proud of the values and principles this contract represents. We should be proud of the new rules that made it possible for us to be considered a national model.
In the RFP for this phone contract, it was highlighted: Selected vendor should be aware the County takes the economic interest of families and inmates seriously and may regard an overcharge as a material breach of contract.
The current vendor, who has been providing service on an expired contract, did not clearly state in bid for current contract that a $3 charge would be assessed each time more money was put onto the phone account of the inmate. It’s akin to getting charged a user fee each time you withdraw money from an ATM. How is this not predatory to the inmates in our care? That predatory behavior was noted by those in the procurement process as part of the scoring.
One important lesson we learned from fighting Steve Stenger over the years was that when you shake the foundations of the old way, those who profited under the old rules fight back. They elbow. And they push. They do whatever they have to do — the truth be damned.
And let’s be honest here — the prison profiteers don’t like our new approach. They want us to stick with the status quo. They know that if too many other governments follow our lead, the profits they make off inmates will shrink. But, you know what? That’s exactly what we want. Because it’s the right thing to do.
The county will get no cut of the profits from a new phone contract. That means about $900,000 less coming into our general fund. But it’s the right thing to do, ensuring that lower phone fees are charged to those in our care so that they can stay in touch with their loved ones and have a better chance at success once they leave our custody.
A couple of other quick notes: Over the weekend, we learned that St. Louis County government was recognized as one of the best places in the region for women to work. This was the first time we received this honor. It is the result of work done by the Women in the Workplace Working Group that I convened shortly after taking office. That working group led us to adopt a new paid family leave policy, increase the minimum wage for county workers, and to be more thoughtful about how our employee policies impact all of our employees. We thank the Women’s Foundation of Greater St. Louis for this honor and will keep working to ensure St. Louis County is a great place to work for everyone.
Yesterday, we announced that Narcan will now be available through our health department in Berkeley, with plans to distribute it to our other two health centers very soon.
Opioid addiction has hit our African-American population particularly hard and that’s why we chose to make the announcement at the Berkeley center. This is a national epidemic and we must do all we can to fight it.
Also yesterday, the Senate passed out of committee a bill to create a statewide prescription drug monitoring program. Missouri remains the only state without one. In 2017 St. Louis County launched its own and it now covers the majority of the state. This is legislation that must be passed if Jefferson City is serious about fighting the opioid crisis.
And tomorrow, a House committee will hold a hearing on tax credits for domestic violence shelters. Domestic violence also is an epidemic and we must look at new ways to fund shelters and get victims the help they need. Before this council is a bill that would ban domestic abusers from carrying concealed firearms. This is common sense legislation that would bring local ordinance in line with federal law.
That’s all for now. Thank you.