Sheriff says Washington County was ‘misled’ into decision to outsource jail meals

Donnie Smith, Washington County sheriff
Donnie Smith, Washington County sheriff
Posted March 18, 2013, at 6:46 p.m.

MACHIAS, Maine — A decision to outsource meal preparation at the Washington County Jail has been reversed after it was discovered that cost savings were grossly overstated by a former jail administrator, according to the sheriff.

“We were misled,” Sheriff Donnie Smith told the county commissioners last week.

Although the commissioners originally felt the move could save money and approved hiring the food service company Aramark to provide jail meals, Smith said the figures provided last December by then-Capt. Robert Gross, were incorrect. He said Gross’s figures were questioned by a former cook before a contract was signed with Aramark.

Gross, 62, of East Machias resigned in January, one day before the commissioners were to act on his termination following a mismanagement scandal involving inmate funds. A second employee, former jail clerk Karina Richardson, 50, of East Machias also was accused of mismanaging inmate funds and was terminated. She is currently appealing that decision and the Maine attorney general’s office is conducting an ongoing investigation into the scope of the mismanagement.

At a Dec. 13 meeting, Gross told the commissioners that the current cost per meal was $4.68 and that Aramark provide meals for $3.99 per meal. Gross estimated the cost savings would have been $30,000 a year.

Smith told the commissioners last week, however, that it appears jail meals are being prepared for only $1.16 per meal. Smith said he has launched a full audit of meal costs so a final determination can be made. He said that since the cost discrepancy was first discovered, the County Manager Betsy Fitzgerald had notified Aramark that the contract would not be signed.

“We are putting this on hold at the very least until we can get a handle on the actual food costs,” Smith said.

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