Potter County Jail

The Potter County Jail in Coudersport

The newly formed Potter County Prison Board is preparing for its public debut.

The board held an informal pre-organizational meeting last Thursday, July 15, following the county commissioners’ meeting the same day.

“We will come out of today’s meeting with a game plan to go into the actual formal organizational meeting,” said Commissioner Paul Heimel at the commissioners’ meeting.

The prison board’s first formal meeting is planned for early August. There, Heimel said the board will select a chairman and a jail warden. The meeting will be open to the public with the date, time and place to be announced.

“From that point forward, we will be operated with accountability to this board of elected officials, rather than an individual who happened to be elected sheriff and automatically becoming warden,” said Heimel.

Previously, commissioners said the positions of sheriff and jail warden require very different skill sets and responsibilities, with both deserving someone’s full-time attention. Before commissioners approved the formation of the board at their last meeting, Potter and McKean counties were the only in the state that didn’t operate their jails via a board. Potter has joined those ranks, and Heimel said McKean is also now in talks to form a board.

“Glenn Drake is a great sheriff and this will free him to continue to operate an excellent sheriff’s department. But right now, he finds himself with a foot in two worlds that really aren’t even connected,” said Heimel. “And he as a warden does not have accountability to anyone, so this board will have the jail warden, the person making the day-to-day decisions on the policies, procedures and operations, accountable to elected officials.”

Commissioner Barry Hayman added, “I think this provides an avenue for concerns of the public to be addressed and the concerns of the gentlemen in the jail to be addressed in a public fashion.”

Hayman said people who had issues pertaining to the jail would often bring them to the county commissioners, who previously had no say as to its operation. Now, prison board members will have equal pull and decision-making power.

The members of the prison board will be the three county commissioners, President Judge Steve Minor, District Attorney Andy Watson and Sheriff Glenn Drake. Heimel said by statute, another member of the board by statue is County Treasurer Krista Miller, who could not attend that day’s informal meeting.

Commissioner Nancy Grupp said state mandate doesn’t currently call for anyone from the public to sit on the board with decision-making power. However, the public can voice concerns at the board’s meetings. She also said prison inmates have a spokesperson who can come to the prison board meetings on their behalf.

Any situations that arise needing to be addressed immediately won’t have to wait until the following month’s meetings. Grupp said the board’s elected chairperson will be in continual contact with the warden, and the board can call special meetings if needed.

Other business

Grupp said citizens concerned about recent proposals to allow the U.S. military to fly low-altitude aircraft over the county for training purposes should contact their senators and state representatives. When a visitor to the meeting shared concerns about the effects the aircraft would have on veterans with PTSD, Heimel clarified that the commissioners don’t actually get a vote in the matter. The decision will be up to the Department of Defense, and Heimel said while commissioners can offer input, state legislators will have more influence in the decision.

Hayman said the Potter County Extension Office has reopened for face-to-face office hours from 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. The week of Monday, Aug. 9, the office will be open Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and starting Aug. 19, will be open every weekday 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. In the meantime, staff are currently in the office every weekday to answer questions by phone.

Grupp announced the Yellow Ribbon Suicide Prevention Program is planning a 5K Glow Run for Oct. 14 in Roulette. Visit the Potter County Human Services website for more information or to register.

Grupp also announced a mobile COVID-19 vaccine clinic at the Coudersport Senior Center in August. More details will be announced.

Also at the meeting, commissioners renewed a rental agreement with Seneca Highlands Intermediate Unit Nine for the use of suites in the county’s Gunzburger Building at $12,000 for one year.

• Accepted a bid of $2,618 for Human Services’ 2010 Ford Fusion

• Approved several Human Services’ contracts and agreements, all of which are up for renewal around this time of the year.

The Potter County Commissioners meet at 11 a.m. every second and fourth Thursdays of the month at the Gunzburger Building in Coudersport. Grupp said plans to hold an evening meeting once a quarter may start in August.

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