Fayette County

Mayor promises ‘action plan’ to fix Lexington jail. Union demands leadership change.

Lexington Mayor Linda Gorton pledged this week to fully investigate concerns about staffing levels, excessive overtime, safety, and a toxic work environment raised by the union representing Fayette County jail employees.

“The jail is very important to public safety and I am taking the allegations the union raised seriously,” Gorton said in a post on Facebook Monday evening. “As a first step, we have launched a fact-finding mission to ensure we fully understand the concerns that have been raised.”

“As we learn more, we will develop an action plan, a sustainable solution that is effective and safe for all involved,” Gorton wrote.

Gorton’s comments come after the Herald-Leader reported on Sept. 27 that the executive committee of FOP Lodge 83 issued a unanimous “no confidence” vote in Fayette County Detention Center director Steve Haney and assistant director Harold Byrne last month. This is the first time Gorton has publicly addressed the no confidence vote.

Gorton said she is meeting one-on-one with corrections officers, has spoken to leaders of the Fraternal Order of Police Town Branch Lodge 83 and is talking to other mayors and judge executives in an effort to find a long-term solution to staffing and overtime problems at the jail.

“I will meet each week with Jail Director Steve Haney to discuss the steps he is taking to make positive changes,” Gorton said.

FOP President Michael Harris said the union is tired of talking and meeting. They want action. Things will not improve unless Haney is removed, he said. The union first raised concerns about staffing last fall, but things improved for only a short time, he said.

“We have had meeting after meeting. There needs to be a change in leadership. It’s clearly not working,” Harris said.

Harris said the union does appreciate Gorton’s hands-on approach.

“She told union leadership that she was going to handle this personally,” Harris said. “She promised to come out to the jail and talk to staff and she did keep her word.”

The Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council also voted Tuesday to put the jail staffing issue into a council committee. It’s not clear when the committee will hear the issue.

An online survey conducted Sept. 19 to Sept. 24 answered by 151 jail employees showed 83 percent agreed with the executive board’s no confidence vote of Haney. The survey found that 80 percent of employees fear for their safety.

More than 20 officers have left the detention center — about 10 percent of the 227 employees at the jail — since July 1. Union officials said what’s troubling is many of those employees have left the jail to go to other county jails that don’t pay as well as Fayette County.

Harris said another jail employee resigned Monday night. “Our people need some help,” he said. “And we need it now.”

The jail is supposed to have 278 employees. In late September, it only had 227, according to union officials. When the detention center opened in 2002 it had 299 employees.

Excessive overtime and overzealous discipline has caused morale at the detention center to plummet, union officials said.

They claim officers are being written up or disciplined because they do not have time to finish shift reports and perform other routine duties.

During former jail director Rodney Ballard’s last 12 months there were a total of 30 disciplinary actions. In August 2019 alone, there were 37 disciplinary actions, according to information provided by the FOP lodge.

Inside the Fayette County Detention Center. A combination of an increase in inmates and staff vacancies at the detention center means staff have to work many overtime shifts. Charles Bertram Herald-Leader

Ballard left the jail to take a state job in 2016.

The survey of employees also showed other problems at the jail.

Approximately 44 percent, or 66 employees, said they have witnessed quid pro quo sexual harassment — supervisors offering preferential treatment to subordinates in exchange for sexual favors.

Forty-nine employees said they had experienced either harassment or racial discrimination.