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Resolve the jail conflict ; Needless fight with state and feds is costing us and it will not go away

What part of the Six Sigma handbook says it's an efficient use of tax dollars to pay 14 county lawyers and aides and 20 sheriff's employees to tail federal officials probing mismanagement of the county's jails?

It seems County Executive Chris Collins is determined to waste as much money as necessary tilting at the U.S. Justice Department as it tries to make the county follow the law in running the Holding Center and Correctional Facility.

That's the only explanation for the fact that much of the case is still before a judge, instead of having been settled by an administration that should be eager to learn what it can do better.

Both the feds and the state Commission on Corrections have sued the county over jail conditions. The jail suicide rate was five times the national average, the feds contended.

But despite saying last summer that he'd now prefer to mediate the issues rather than drag out the court case, the lawsuit continues -- and so does the interference. Thirty-four county employees were assigned to dog federal probers or check up on their work during just one week in December.

When a mental-health consultant toured the facilities and tried to talk briefly with inmates about their medical care, county lawyers rushed in with tape recorders while trying to stop any conversation.

Surely they have better things to do on the taxpayer dime than try to get in the way of federal officials -- also paid by taxpayers -- as they do their work. And if they just have to obstruct justice, couldn't they do so with far fewer county lawyers?

In court papers, the feds also described being forced to sit around waiting for an hour before being driven from the Rath Building to the Holding Center -- a two-block distance they easily could have walked in a couple of minutes.

If that kind of inefficiency were occurring in a county initiative serving poor people, Collins would be calling a press conference to abolish the program. But no waste seems to be too great if it's part of the legal battle to defend county mismanagement.

It's no wonder a judge this week rejected the county's request to end the inspections. The best thing for taxpayers, not to mention inmates, would be for the county to settle the rest of the lawsuit and simply bring its facilities and practices up to par.

Barring that, the least it can do is harass the feds with fewer bureaucrats.

Collins is constantly touting the benefits of the Six Sigma management strategy in making the county more efficient. It is hard to believe the program would endorse this behavior.

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