Brandi Garner
Brandi Garner, interim CEO of the Oklahoma County Jail, describes overarching designs problems inside a cell at the Oklahoma County Jail on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2023. (Tres Savage)

The Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Authority voted unanimously today to abandon the idea of a national search for a new jail CEO and instead formally hire interim CEO Brandi Garner as the jail’s permanent administrator at the upcoming April meeting.

The trust appointed Garner as CEO of the jail when former administrator Greg Williams stepped down in December. She came to the jail after working as an administrator at the Cleveland County Jail.

In December, trustees voted to conduct a national search to find a permanent replacement for Williams. Since then, the trust has informally consulted with the U.S. Department of Justice for guidance as it seeks a new CEO, but no consultant has been hired to begin a search for outside candidates.

“There are two DOJ lawyers who live in OKC, and we’re on their radar screen, as you can imagine,” trust attorney John Michael Williams said Monday. “When Greg Williams resigned, they contacted me and then one thing led to another and they said they could be helpful. We talked at some length about how that could be facilitated. The DOJ did not direct that we choose these people, they said they are here to help. In fact, the DOJ has been very helpful. They have not been adversarial.”

Acting trust chairman Ben Brown has supported the idea of a national search and the hiring of consultants to guide the trust through the selection process. On Monday, Brown said he had contacted Denver County (Colorado) Sheriff Elias Diggins as part of a recommendation from the DOJ to come to OKC to see the jail and help recommend candidates for the CEO job.

“They recommended the sheriff of Denver who has been there 20 years. They recommended we contact him, and I did ,and he is willing to help,” Brown said. “He seems to be well experienced in law enforcement and jail operation.”

But trustee Sue Ann Arnall said she didn’t understand why a national search needed to be conducted when obvious progress is being made under Garner.

“In light of the progress we’ve made, this continuation has been incredible,” Arnall said. “I don’t know why we would disrupt that. Things are finally happening that should be happening, and I would really hate to cause more instability with the current staff.”

Trustee Derrick Scobey said Garner is the only choice in his eyes, although he added that the trust needs to allow time for any community members who might oppose Garner to speak up as a manner of due diligence. Scobey said there would be little chance that consultants or outside candidates could change his mind about Garner.

“I used to love Superman and Wonder Woman growing up,” Scobey told the trust. “Whoever the person would be, for me to change my mind or heart, they would have to be Superman or Wonder Woman showing me something I’ve never seen in my life.”

Garner did not speak on her behalf Monday. In an interview with NonDoc in January, she said she would like to have the “interim” portion of her job title scrapped.

“I want to see this place succeed,” Garner said in January. “I know that I can make it successful. I have a team I trust, and I’m bringing in some new blood into some key positions. I know that we all together have the skills to make this place as successful as it can be.”

Clarity on jail site, architect selection timeline

Oklahoma County jail bond election
The juxtaposition of the Oklahoma City Police Department near the current Oklahoma County Jail can symbolize the rift over whether criminal justice reforms should occur before voters grant the county authority to build a new jail. (Michael Duncan)

Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Advisory Council executive director Tim Tardibono told the trust that site selection and an architect decision for the new county jail could be finalized as early as May. County voters approved $260 million in bonds to fund the new jail’s construction in June 2022.

“There are several things that happened this morning,” Tardibono told the trust. “The Board of County Commissioners approved the bond sales for the site selection and the contract with the architect. So the architect and site selection could all be coming together in May.”

Meanwhile, the trust also voted unanimously Monday to request the Oklahoma County District Attorney’s Office to handle the trust’s general legal services. Those services have been provided in part by John Michael Williams who is part of OKC-based firm Williams, Box, Foshee and Ballard.

“There is an ongoing need to efficiently and economically manage the legal services needs of the authority with respect to litigation and with respect to other matters,” Williams told the trust Monday. “Prior to the time the trust was created, the office of the district attorney provided legal service to the sheriff. So it seems advantageous to see if we can move to that again.”

Williams said he supports the potential change.

“This is a request to the office of the DA with the purpose of bringing back an agreement,” Williams said. “This gets that started and the net effect could be that at a minimum my duties would be greatly reduced and perhaps even eliminated, all of which is a good thing and something that I support.”

In 2020, the trust paid his firm more than $237,000. Williams told NonDoc in 2021 he was ready to shed some of the work his firm does for the trust.

“This isn’t a good long-term situation for us to spend as much time as we did in this law firm working on jail activities,” Williams told NonDoc in 2021. “It’s not good long term for the jail and for this law firm. We’re doing this work at a significantly discounted rate.”

With longtime Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater not seeking reelection in 2022, voters selected Democrat Vicki Behenna to be the new DA.