A First Step 

A First Step

Congratulations are owed to the Shelby County Commission, which on Monday put aside some significant disagreements in its ranks to create a new mechanism to consider privatization of the county's correction facilities. After much storm and stress, a controversial proposal for out-sourcing the management of the downtown jail and the county corrections center will finally get due consideration from the 13 members of the commission and Mayor A C Wharton and Sheriff Mark Luttrell. The medium will be a review committee (in keeping with the reigning discord, there is still dispute as to what exactly to call it) appointed jointly by the mayor, the sheriff, and the commission.

Not everybody is pleased -- especially not commissioners Walter Bailey and Cleo Kirk, both privatization opponents, whose principled resistance to the idea kept them from joining in the commission's vote to ratify the committee's creation. Commissioner Marilyn Loeffel abstained from voting, presumably in continuation of a protest against commission colleague Bruce Thompson, whose role in issuing Requests for Proposals had already drawn responses from three private prison-management concerns.

Maybe Thompson was cart-before-the-horse, but the establishment of the new review committee in effect superceded that controversy and gave a de facto sanction to the bid process.

The commission still has the final say on things, however, and it is empowered to adjudicate not only between separate bidders but also the still-unresolved dilemma of which motive should be preeminent -- that of fairness to employees whose jobs are threatened or that of potentially significant revenue savings for a cash-strapped county government. There are strong arguments either way, and it will take serious judgment to resolve the matter.

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