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Hartselle Enquirer
Morgan County Sheriff Ana Franklin (left) had her court hearing that was set for last Thursday postponed. | Enquirer file photo

Sheriff Franklin’s court hearing postponed

Lauren Estes

Hartselle Enquirer

The recent court hearing for Sheriff Ana Franklin in relation to her use of $150,000 from the inmate food fund was postponed until April.

Franklin said although there are many aspects of the situation she can’t share for legality purposes, but the money was initially moved in good faith.

“Right now, we are the middle of different motions, hearings and briefs and have all that to process through,” Franklin said. “As of right now there’s been another hearing involving oral arguments scheduled for April 14. That will be the next step in the process. As far as I know, it will be open to the public. Tentatively, it will be in Decatur, but everything is subject to change between the attorneys. We thought we were having a phone conference on Thursday as well as a hearing, but both of those were cancelled.”

Franklin shared in an interview to the Hartselle Enquirer on Friday although she did remove the $150,000 from the excess food account to invest it in Priceville Partners, LLC in June of 2015, she planned to get the money back 30 days later. Franklin did have connections with the business. She said she knew several people who worked there, including her daughter.

“In 2015, I had a reduction of federal inmates in the jail and a huge increase in our county and state inmates, Franklin said. “So, I had a loss in our food account almost every month for a total of over $20,000 for that year. So, when I had an opportunity to take some of the money that had accumulated through other years from that account and it return with interest, I thought that at the time it would be a good investment. The money was slated to come back within 30 days, which was

from my excess account, and the interest, which was 17 percent of the amount, would return to that account too. Unfortunately, the business went bankrupt, since that time, the money has been restored and the loan has been repaid. The original principal is back in the loan, and it took me time to get that money back. I got the money back in December of 2016 and took it out in June of 2015. The business, Priceville Partners, filed for bankruptcy early in 2016.”

Franklin said she believes that situations like this often are drawn in negative light simply because not all the facts are on display.

“One of the other things that is difficult about these issues- anytime you’re in this type of position, like a sheriff- there are these types of legal situations where lawsuits are filed and the public can’t be informed because I can’t speak about it until after the case is over with,” Franklin said. “The other side gets to say whatever they want to and the public is left to only hear the points that ware raised, which are often negative and many of them are not fair or accurate.”

According to Franklin, the only money she receives for the inmates is through the state for state inmates is $1.75, per person, per day, and while hosting federal inmates, she receives additional money at $3.00, per person, per day.

“In a simple way of putting it, the state municipality pays the sheriff individually for the feeding of the inmates, the County Commission does not have the food budget for inmates,” Franklin said. “There is no money sent to the jail budget by our County Commission to feed inmates, it is strictly a personal duty and responsibility of the sheriff of each county unless they have a resolution by the county. The bills that come in for the food are mine personally and I have to pay them. Each sheriff, when they come into the office has to set up their own kitchen. When you have an excess fund, that money is in a personal account. The food excess account is my personal account with my name and social security account number there. There has never been one penny spent by me personally, all though legally I believe it could have been.”

Morgan County Commission Chairman Ray Long said Franklin gets money for many aspects of the Sheriff’s Department, but not for inmate’s food.

“Not for inmates, she gets money from the state for that,” Long said. “Decatur city pays and other cities pay for different things but, no, we don’t budget any money for inmate food.”

Franklin said, according to state law, the money left over from the inmate fund is hers.

“If you can mange your food account well, and you have a little left over, we are paid basically for managing that account. Yes, it is tax payers dollars, but they are paid directly to the sheriff- the ability to make some money that is considered part of your salary,” Franklin said. “I know folks don’t see that as right, but that is what happens. For instance, I make $68,000 a year. In 2015, I lost $20,000 in having to pay in on the food account so, in all I made $48,000. If you make $20,000 in surplus, then you add that to your personal salary.”

Franklin said that if she was being investigated for malnutrition of the inmates, then that is what would be the subject of scrutiny.

“What has been so upsetting for me in all of this is that we have been monitored and inspected since I have been sheriff by the Southern Center, in accordance to the consent degree, and received voluntary inspections by the national jail institute. We were the first county and one of two that now have nationally jail standards,” Franklin said. “Our food and our menus are approved by a nutritionist and each month that they have come in and cited that I am feeding too large of portions and needing to cut portions back. I’ve said we are going to feed these people correctly. Out of the complaints that the Southern Center cited, if you serve 1.2 million meals- in doing the math, it is 0.000194 complaints versus meals served. I don’t feel that that show a pattern of gross negligence. Around 90 percent of the inmates that stayed 90 days or more have actually gained weight in our jail.”

Franklin went on to say that the consent decree given to former Sheriff Greg Bartlett should not be applied to Franklin because of different circumstances.

“In the six years that I have had the jail I have only fed a nutritionally balanced meals, all this comparison to something that happened with Greg Bartlett just can’t be compared,” Franklin said. “When he violated it and fed corndogs for an extended period of time, he was held in contempt of the decree and his purge was his offering to no longer keep the excess food money. The difference in sheriff Bartlett situation, in one year Bartlett made $98,000 when he kept the food money. In the year I took it, I lost over $20,000 and I was trying re-coop some of the losses. He was held in contempt for violating the act from 2001 stating that the meals have to be a balanced, nutritious meal and I have not violated it. I understand that it was for me and any other sheriff until which time it is removed. “

“For the public I will guarantee, that if we had not we been not been feeding the inmates right, that would be the issue you’d been hearing,” Franklin said. “Since I’ve been sheriff, we’ve been running the jail in a constitutional manner, we have tried to treat everyone humanly and correctly as possible. So, yes, it’s my account and personally, what many people don’t understand- if there’s a food law or costs go up, then we are personally responsible as sheriffs for that as well. In 2015 and 2016, I had a short fall that was not counting the 150k that was removed. There’s a political agenda right now and that’s why all of this is coming out. People have to have a scandal, that’s what is truly behind this. People behind the whistleblower blog are pushing to get me out of office and pushing to get this in court. So far, all that has been painted is one-sided and it makes me look like I’m treating people badly and that’s just not the case. We have a situation sometimes where things get printed on the parts that sound the worst, rather than making light of all the information, and it’s very upsetting for me personally.”

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