Glynn County Sheriff Neal Jump sits at his office on Sulphur Springs Road on Feb. 3, 2023. Credit: Jake Shore/The Current

Glynn County’s sheriff is accepting a $160,000 advance from a company that charges telephone fees to people in his jail, to purchase two new pursuit vehicles, according to the sheriff.

County commissioners are expected to approve augmenting Sheriff Neal Jump’s budget with what they’re referring to as a “donation” at their upcoming Thursday meeting. 

Technically, the funds are not a donation, but instead an advance payment on communication fees charged to detainees awaiting trial and their loved ones. Jump’s jail earned over $330,000 in shared fees via the contract with Pay Tel Communications in 2022. 

Thursday’s meeting revived the proposal after it was pulled from a previous agenda on Aug. 1, after The Current called a commissioner with questions about the planned payment. Jump said he removed the item because he wanted to clarify the terms to the county commissioners. 

When it reappeared on the agenda this week, it did not mention Pay Tel. 

A county commission spokesperson said interim county CFO Tamara Munson removed the company’s name because it was “for her purposes” and merely a vote to adjust the budget, not address the so-called donation. 

A February vehicle chase by the sheriff and his deputies damaged three cruisers badly enough to be taken out of commission. 

“Those three cars had to be replaced. So (the commissioners) took them, those three, off of my budget this year,” Jump said. “That cut me short this year.”

Law enforcement agencies in Georgia have been encouraged to boost revenue via donations from outside entities after a 2022 law makes tax credits available to individuals and corporations alike who do so. 

Glynn County
Credit: Jeffery M. Glover/ The Current

Undersheriff Mario Morales said the Glynn County agency has contemplated the idea of establishing such a foundation, but currently does not have one. The law bars entities with financial contracts with law enforcement, like Pay Tel, from donating to foundations linked to those agencies. 

Jump told The Current that deleting the company’s name from the commissioners’ agenda was a tactic intended to call into question the request. He said he would be at the meeting to show that he’s done everything above board. 

“I put it on the agenda to be open and fair and transparent to them and to the citizens of Glynn County. I’ve been in office since 2013, and I’ve never hidden anything from them,” Jump said. 

Jump also said he was discriminating about who he accepted money from because donations mean “you’re obligated to give favors, and I don’t like giving favors.” 

“I do what the law says,” he added. 

Controversial “donation”

It’s a common practice for sheriffs to have deals with telecommunications companies in their jails. What is less common, however, are actions like Pay Tel’s advance payment, according to Wanda Bertram, who studies jail telecommunications for the Prison Policy Initiative. 

Bertram said some sheriff’s departments have received perks from telecom companies such as signing bonuses or been offered lavish cruises from Florida to the Caribbean. Other sheriffs have been recipients of campaign donations. 

Pay Tel, which has a contract extended through 2027, hasn’t donated to Jump’s re-election campaign, but a rival telecommunications company has, according to a June campaign finance filing for the sheriff who has served Glynn County for 10 years. In 2013, Jump was elected to replace the retiring, five-term sheriff, Wayne Bennett. Jump ran as a Republican and defeated Bennett’s undersheriff in the primary. He faced no opposition in the general election. 

The Pay Tel payment is being used to replace police cruisers damaged in a February pursuit in Glynn County.

Jump and Morales say the advance funds from Pay Tel will allow them to fill an immediate need. 

In February, deputies pursued a man driving over 100 mph in Glynn County, and the chase ended after the sheriff  used a controversial vehicle maneuver to stop the driver. That chase damaged three police vehicles, Jump said. 

The sheriff’s department is repairing three police vehicles but are waiting for parts. Jump said the Pay Tel advance payment will let them buy two ready-to-go cruisers. 

Jump said he is not legally required to put this offer of an advance payment from Pay Tel up for commissioner approval. He said he is doing so because he wants to be transparent.

Commissioner Allen Booker said he plans to abstain from the Thursday vote because he disagrees with Jump’s idea of transparency and the funding source.

“I’ve always supported the sheriff and the things he’s wanted, but I’m not supporting this,” Booker said.

Jake Shore covers public safety and the courts system in Savannah and Coastal Georgia. He is also a Report for America corps member. Prior to joining The Current, Jake worked for the Island Packet and...