What began Tuesday as a request from the City of Thomasville for Thomas County Prison inmate labor evolved into two Thomas County commissioners questioning city cemetery maintenance practices.
Bobby Geer, prison warden, told commissioners at a Tuesday board meeting two additional inmates crews have been requested by city public works.
The city would provide equipment and a van for transporting inmates. The prison would provide inmates and a detail officer.
One inmate crew would be assigned to Laurel Hill Cemetery, the other at various Thomasville locations, Geer explained.
Commission Chairman Moses Gross pointed out providing the inmate crews would take two officers from inside the prison, requiring two new officers and the individuals’ certification.
The city previously used Autry State Prison inmates.
Geer told the board money the city would pay for local prison labor would stay here, while money paid to Autry prisoners went to Atlanta.
The cost of providing the inmates would result in an annual profit of $21,812.
‘We will be ready April 1,” the warden told commissioners.
Commissioner Mark NeSmith, who said the situation would provide “a positive cash low” for county government and a service to the city, made a motion to OK the crews. Commissioner Phillip Brown made the second to the motion.
Gross said he wanted to know if prison crews would work at city cemeteries other than Laurel Hill.
“We’re not doing it just for Laurel Hill,” the chairman said.
Commissioner Merrill Baker said Peaceful Rest and Magnolia cemeteries are not maintained as well by the city as they used to be. Older black families — and his parents — are buried at Magnolia, Baker said.
When asked after the commission meeting if Peaceful Rest and Magnolia are predominantly black cemeteries, Baker said, “I do not know of any whites buried at Magnolia and Peaceful Rest.”
Commissioner Elaine Mays said it is not the county’s place to dictate where the city uses prisoners if the city is paying for the labor. Commissioner Hershel Ansley agreed.
Gross told Mays “the people” are paying for the service, to which Mays responded that city residents do not pay a property tax.
The subject, the motion and second were set aside while Geer called Mike Atkinson, city public works director, to the meeting.
Gross expressed cemetery-related concerns to Atkinson about assignments of the prison work detail.
Atkinson told commissioners inmates would maintain all city cemeteries on a rotation basis.
Gross told Atkinson his concern had been about the possibility prisoners would work only at Laurel Hill.
The motion and second were revived, and the inmate crews were approved unanimously.
Senior reporter Patti Dozier can be reached at (229) 226-2400, ext. 1820.