'Not competent to lead': Union issues 'no-confidence' vote for Fayette County jail leadership

Fayette County Detention Center Jail
Posted at 2:15 PM, May 02, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-02 23:14:23-04

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — The union representing corrections officers who work at the Fayette County Detention Center has issued a vote of "no-confidence" regarding leadership at the jail.

FOP Town Branch Lodge #83 held a special executive board meeting to vote against LFUCG Public Safety Commissioner Kenneth Armstrong and FCDC Director Lisa Farmer, according to a press release sent out Monday.

The vote was not carried out by the full membership, but according to the press release, "the board voted consistent with the feedback they received following a membership survey."

The union and the city of Lexington have locked horns in the past over staffing shortages, but two years of tense contract negotiations culminated in a new two-year, $10 million collective bargaining agreement in February.

Despite the new agreement, union leaders have continued to sound the alarm about staffing issues.

The press release stated that the vote came following survey results that showed "low officer morale, health, and safety issues, and harassing behavior towards officers unable to meet ridiculous overtime demands."

Michael Harris, the union's president, called for immediate leadership changes.

"[The vote] simply means that the men and women who faithfully serve at FCDC and risk their lives every day to keep us safe do not believe that Commissioner Armstrong or Director Farmer are competent to lead FCDC," Harris said.

Union leaders claimed that under Armstrong's leadership since 2018, FCDC staffing vacancies have only "accelerated."

They also accused Director Farmer of "trying to force exhausted workers to work multiple overtime shifts." Union leaders have routinely complained about workers being tasked with working many 16-hour days.

The press release issued Monday also claimed the culture at the jail had "deteriorated" because of "constant harassment, retaliation, and mistreatment By Director Farmer or through her management directives."

In response to a request for comment, a spokesperson for Mayor Linda Gorton sent LEX 18 a statement and information about the staffing situation, on behalf of the mayor, Commissioner Armstrong, and FCDC Director Farmer.

The mayor's office declined to specifically address the vote of no-confidence, but instead focused its statement on the suggestion by some to request help from the National Guard:

"There are serious restrictions driven by state statutes that prevent non-sworn officers from serving in roles having direct contact with inmates. If members of the National Guard were to be mobilized for this purpose, they would have to undergo significant training to serve in this role and would still have a very short mobilization period to actually help. The state considered this option and decided against it. It has too many logistical and training issues, and would only provide help for a very limited amount of time.

In talking with the state about utilization of the National Guard or any other assistance to address our corrections staffing issues, it was clear that many governments across the state have reached out in the last few years to ask for help since this issue is so prevalent. Many jails and prisons are in far worse shape than our facility. If deploying the National Guard were ever to move forward, Lexington would be very far down the list to receive assistance based on prioritization of issues."

There are 207 total staff members, with 116 total vacancies, according to information from the mayor's office. Since the new contract was reached in February, the spokesperson said, 17 people have been hired to work at the jail, with four starting later this month.

The jail currently has 957 inmates, down from an all-time high of about 1,550, the spokesperson said.

In late April, LEX 18 sat down with Mayor Gorton, who expressed confidence in FCDC leadership and suggested that staffing has improved since the contract was resolved in February.

"We put in significant pay raises," Mayor Gorton said. "And so we're starting to see the fruit of that."

Mayor Gorton's office told LEX 18 that the city has hired 14 new employees to work at the jail since the new contract took effect. In addition, five former employees have returned, according to her office.

An attorney for the union said the contract has helped retain employees, but he added that hiring prospective employees has remained a challenge.

"I think there was an expectation that we're going to have more officers recruited and trained to help fill the staffing shortage," Scott Crosbie said. "So far, we really haven't seen much with respect to that."

During our April interview, Crosbie floated the possibility of having Governor Andy Beshear step in to solve what he called a "crisis."

Mayor Gorton dismissed that suggestion.

"There's not a path forward for the National Guard to come in there," she told LEX 18. "The National Guard is also not trained for inmate oversight."

In light of the 'no-confidence' vote, union leaders are urging LFUCG City Council "to hold immediate hearings about the leadership and staffing emergency."