Opportunity to improve city jail

Mayor Jim Gray and the Urban County Council have a big opportunity to improve management of the Fayette County jail. They should make the most of it.

Ron Bishop, who turned 62 in April and says he had always planned to retire this year, will step down Aug. 1 after seven years as corrections director.

His departure comes in the wake of two critical reports commissioned by the newly elected Gray and after years in which the jail has generated a troubling number of complaints and lawsuits involving mistreatment of inmates and discrimination against employees.

Early in Bishop's tenure, an FBI investigation led to the criminal conviction of five corrections officers for abusing inmates and covering it up.

We understand that large jails are difficult places to work and manage. Also, no one runs for mayor or council to pour their time and energy into improving the jail.

But providing a safe and secure detention facility is a fundamental duty of local government and therefore worthy of the mayor's and council's attention.

Gray says he plans to appoint an interim director, which should give his administration and the council time to think not just about how to recruit the best possible leader but also to consider systemic problems and solutions.

A council committee is already studying the idea of turning management of the jail over to Sheriff Kathy Witt. That's not a change to rush into, since sheriffs elected in the future might not be able or willing to take on the task.

The mayor and council have surprisingly little leeway to make management changes below the top tier of political appointees in the city administration. Any time one of these jobs comes open should be seen as an opportunity for broad reevaluation.