ST. LOUIS (KMOX) - Alderman are questioning whether the Slay Administration is attempting to make the city’s top jailer the fall guy for a series of jailbreaks, which leaked memos suggest were related to budget cuts the top jailer had long opposed.
The stack of memos, purporting to be from suspended Corrections Commissioner Gene Stubblefield, chronicle his struggle with higher-ups in the Slay Administration to fill vacant positions Stubblefield argued were essential to jail security.
A memo from Stubblefield to Public Safety Director Charles Bryson dated April 4, 2011 warned:
“I am concerned because corrections has lost numerous managers and supervisors over the years due to budget cuts. We have a major public safety responsiblity and jails can become a dangerous place to live and work without an appropriate managerial staffing pattern.”
The authenticity of the memos, which were provided to KMOX by a source who asked to remain anonymous, is not being disputed by the Slay Administration.
Several aldermen expressed concern that the memos suggest the Slay Administration is rushing to blame the suspended Corrections Commissioner for an escape problem that may be rooted in the city’s fiscal crisis.
“Stubblefield may be a sacrificial lamb, taking a fall, for something that through the e-mails he tried to warn,” said Alderman Gregory Carter, Chairman of the Public Safety Committee.
Aldermanic President Lewis Reed says the memos raise new questions about whether Stubblefield was the villain or the victim.
“With the recent prison breaks, it’s looking less and less like it’s an issue with Stubblefield,” Reed said, “What we’re seeing is other things may have been happening to prevent him from putting a workable system in place, budget cuts and things of that nature.”
Alderman Antonio French says the memos put some of the blame for recent escapes with the city’s top elected official.
“Where does the responsibility lie? Ultimately, it lies with the mayor,” French said, “All of these people answer to the mayor. So, for Mr. Bryson (the Public Safety Director) to be making Mr. Stubblefield the fall guy, it just doesn’t fly.”
KMOX left a message with Bryson seeking reaction, and Mayor Slay’s newly-appointed Operations Director, Police Captain Sam Dotson returned the call. Dotson does not think the memos suggest blame for recent jailbreaks rises as high as the Mayor’s office.
“The Commissioner of Corrections is the one ultimately responsible for the operation of jail facilities,” Dotson said, “To politicize this, I think, mis-characterizes it.”
Dotson also disputes the theme of the memos that Slay Administration budget cuts and staff reductions were jeopardizing the security of city jails.
“The e-mails that go back and forth are an employee talking to his boss saying, I think that these are ideas, and the boss responding back to his employe saying I hear that but these are some other ideas.”
Currenlty, there are some 35 vacancies among the guard staff at the city’s two jails, while a record 1,900 inmates are housed. In Fiscal Year 2012, the corrections department budget was $32.7 million, an increase of $100,000 over last year, Dotson said.
Dotson says Stubblefield’s claims in the e-mails that key managerial positions, such as the Detention Center Superintendent, needed to be filled to maintain jail security standards was a point of honest disagreement.
“To characterize that one position was critical to the operating of the system was not an accurate portrayal,” Dotson said.
Dotson was asked if Public Safety Director Charles Bryson, is above reproach in the rash of escapes. “There’s nobody in city government and the Mayor’s administration that’s beyond reproach,” Dotson said, “That’s why the system works.”
Stubblefield remains on forced leave, pending the outcome of an internal investigation being conducted by Dotson. As a civil service employee, Stubblefield is entitled to a hearing before the appointing authority , who is Charles Bryson. To avoid a perception of a conflict of interest, Bryson could recuse himself and appoint someone else such as another department manger, to hear the evidence.
If Stubblefield is disciplined at that point, then he has a right to appeal to the civil service commission, which consists of three appointees — of the mayor.