The sheriff responded to questions and explained COVID-19 protocol after two commissioners demanded officials answer in public.
MACON, Ga. — On Tuesday, our previous story on conditions inside the Bibb County jail prompted questions by some commissioners, a response from the sheriff, and according to one commissioner, a closed-door discussion.
Photos shows over 20 inmates lying on the ground, close together, and not wearing masks.
Sheriff David Davis says the images are from inside one of two areas where inmates are required to quarantine for 10 days.
In response to our story about those photos, Commissioner Virgil Watkins posed questions to the sheriff in Tuesday’s meeting. However, Mayor Lester Miller stepped in and said those questions should be answered behind closed doors.
“We have an executive session shortly. That item can be covered in executive session, something I don’t think we don’t need to talk about and put the sheriff in this situation right now,” Miller said.
“I didn’t understand nor was it expressed on why the questions I was asking shouldn’t be talked about in public,” said Commissioner Virgil Watkins Jr.
Commissioners Virgil Watkins and Al Tillman objected and pushed for the sheriff to answer questions in public.
“Are you saying, to respect the chair, because we are going to learn details out of the public views?” Tillman said to Mayor Miller.
“Commissioner Tillman, I’m saying what I’m saying. I do not want to get into this any further, OK?,” Miller said.
The sheriff did answer questions, explaining that the photos were taken inside the area where inmates are required to quarantine for at least 10 days before being able to access the rest of the jail. Even after answering those questions, the county attorney then stepped in saying it was appropriate to handle this away from the public for now.
“I just think it’s more appropriate at this juncture to flesh the rest of this out in executive session. You got good questions, but then we can determine intelligently what might be more appropriate to be shared at this juncture,” county attorney Duke Groover said. “It’s just a new development.”
The commission went into executive session with Sheriff Davis shortly after the comment. Spokesman Chris Floore, who was not in the meeting, says county officials told him that jail conditions were not discussed.
However, Commissioner Al Tillman says it briefly was.
“We raised issues again, some of us, about the photo, and the safety of not only the inmates but the sheriff department. The sheriff assured us that he’s taking every precaution to ensure the safety of the men and women that’s there, so that was the extent of it,” Tillman said.
The sheriff also claims the conditions in the jail were not discussed in the closed meeting. Several commissioners told us that the main subject of the discussion was a possible lawsuit against the sheriff’s office — unconnected to the jail conditions.
Floore says the county attorney’s office reviewed all topics discussed in the closed meeting to ensure they were handled legally.
Of course, we cannot independently confirm what was discussed in the executive session because the press and the public are not allowed to listen in.
Georgia Open Meetings Law says governments cannot exclude the public from meetings unless the topic fits a short list of expectations including potential, pending or current lawsuits, property, or matters concerning employees.
According to the act, violating the act knowingly or willfully is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine not to exceed $1,000.00.