Jail cell pods and Candy Crush

Published On: Mar 31 2014 06:14:42 PM EDT
Updated On: Sep 15 2014 12:16:40 PM EDT

The county is trying to put a failed jail project behind it.

DETROIT -

If you are a follower of Wall Street you will know last week the company that created the wildly popular smartphone game Candy Crush took a beating on its initial public offering.

It didn’t make a lot of sense that Candy Crush would get crushed by the big money, but that’s the way of the business world.

Then there is the polar opposite: Wayne County. It is anything but wildly successful and it doesn’t have money, much less candy to crush. It did decide a couple of months ago to crush $5 million worth of jail cell pods built for the failed $160 million Wayne County Jail project. But in the classic Wayne County fashion of doing business that costs money and loses money, they have now decided not to crush them. It doesn’t make a lot of sense that 20-ton buildings needed to be crushed but then again this is the way of the world in Wayne County. If you can waste money why not waste a lot of time dithering over the decision as well.

Read back: Lest we forget: Wayne County taxpayers paying the price

We've done a lot of stories about these jail cell pods. They are the 111 Lego-like structures that have a steel bed, toilet and sink inside a concrete building with doors that either swing open or slide shut. Some weigh 20 tons, some 30 tons but either way they sit rusting in the elements outside in a storage lot across from River Rouge High School next to an industrial railroad yard. The county had actually contracted a company to start moving them off of the property a couple of weeks ago because it has been paying storage fees since they were built about a year ago.

The team trying to assess whether to take the county jail to the now closed and state-owned Mound Road Correctional Center [because the new jail project essentially brought the county to its knees] couldn’t find anyone to buy them. We were watching to see because we were curious how the process would work and where they would crush them. Then no one ever showed up to move them. Then came the word a couple of companies interested in running the Mound Road Jail [if it gets built] are interested in buying the pods or finding a buyer elsewhere in the country who might want or need them. The problem with that scenario is that the county had budgeted $5 million to move them about 10 miles from where they are to the failed jail site downtown. Move them any farther and you are now spending more money than they are worth. While that assessment is made, there is the possibility someone might be interested in them. They have been given what amounts to a stay of execution. And the meter on the storage continues running.

Wayne County Commissioners have been railing against this corner of the entirely embarrassing failed jail disaster. They are frustrated because they get news like this from me. For instance, County Commissioner Ilona Varga openly admitted, "I didn’t know they were not gonna crush it .. I don’t think anybody knows what they want to do and they’re keeping us commissioners in the dark and they don’t tell us anything until we hear it from the media."

Ray Byers is the guy Wayne County Executive Bob Ficano put in charge of the cleanup and the effort to move the failed jail to Mound Road. Today he said, "Do we think Mound is an option? Absolutely. We think Mound is probably the best place if you’re going to build an all new facility, yes."

June 8 is the deadline to make that decision. But Byers’ task is a tall order because he is trying to please everyone and no one will be by the time this is all over. Most of the commissioners I talk with think building the jail where it is for the price originally agreed to is the right answer. The governor wants Mound Road [and he holds the purse strings right now since Wayne County is all but broke] or renovate the old jails with the bond money that’s left.

Therein lies the indecision that is plaguing this entire mess. It’s a team effort. This is how you have jail cell pods that don’t get used, are supposed to be crushed to save money and then wind up not crushed because it might save some money. All of this comes on top of apparent criminal wrongdoing that put the pods into play here in the first place.

What if Wayne County’s Candy Crush ended up as a Wall Street? Now you understand why Wayne County is on the doorstep of an emergency manager.

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