Tracy Lambert, a member of the Cleburne County Hospital Board which oversees EMS and the Cleburne County Nursing Home, told the other board members at their meeting Thursday that Cleburne County Commissioner Emmett Owen, who is organizing the construction project, had asked Lambert “to start paying” the inmates.
“When we started this, we thought some of the labor was going to be community service,” said Lambert, interim director of EMS. “That has not turned out and so we’re paying for labor at $8 an hour.”
Owen was not at the meeting. After the meeting Owen said by phone that he didn’t know how the board got the impression that the inmate labor was going to be community service, i.e., work for no pay.
“I’m the one that’s doing it for nothing,” Owen said.
He also said he had not asked the board to pay the inmates, that it was up to the board to do so.
Owen said he is providing the tools and training the inmates to do the work; none of them had the knowledge to do this work before he taught them, he said.
The inmates are being paid more than minimum wage to get closer to the prevailing wage for construction workers in the area, Lambert said during the meeting.
Some of the board members asked why the construction did not qualify as community service.
“It’s the uncertainty in the current questions being asked about the program itself,” Lambert said, referring to an Alabama Ethics Commission investigation into some of the Cleburne County commissioners’ use of inmate labor. “I just want to make sure that we were doing everything we’re supposed to do, so that we don’t get pulled into this that’s going on.”
Board member Clarence Duckworth had his own explanation.
“That’s more small-town politics,” Duckworth said.
The labor so far has added up to less than $2,000, Lambert told the board.
“They’ve almost got all the sheetrock up,” Lambert said. “There’s no way we’d get that done for that kind of labor.”
Lambert said after the meeting EMS has been paying the inmates “from day one.”
In other business the board members:
— Amended the bus purchases from the meeting in May to purchase from Florida-based Quality Emergency Vehicles, which was the low bidder at $77,802 for a 2014 ambulance and $76,897 for a 2013 ambulance. EMS will be purchasing one of each. The board had wanted to negotiate with local bidder Buster Miles. Buster Miles didn’t submit their bid correctly. Lambert found out that the negotiation could have violated state bidding rules.
— Approved running another want-ad for an ambulance driver. The last advertisement didn’t yield any candidates. This time, the board will allow Lambert’s son, Tony Lambert to apply for the position.
— Set the next meeting for July 18.
Staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.