It’s a donation. It’s an advance. It’s actually a “donation slash grant.”

The financial semantics around the $160,000 payment from a jail vendor to the Glynn County Sheriff, which he says he will use to buy new police cruisers, continues to cause confusion. 

On Wednesday, Sheriff Neal Jump told The Current that the money from Pay Tel Communications was “a line of credit” and would come out of future revenues that his office receives for the fees earned on jail communications by detainees. Pay Tel’s contract earned the jail over $330,000 last year for such services that included texts, phone calls and the use of tablets. 

Jump said the funds would pay for two new pursuit vehicles after three were wrecked during a high-speed chase that he and his deputies were involved in February. 

At Thursday’s Board of Commissioners’ meeting, interim county CFO Tamara Munson told officials she read the contract herself and the funds were in fact “not an advance” but instead a “grant” to the sheriff’s office. Jump told commissioners they can call it a “donation slash grant.” 

But the actual contract shows that a better term might be bonus. 

On Friday, Jump’s office sent The Current new contract language with Pay Tel that Jump signed June 13, an addendum that the sheriff did not disclose earlier. 

The addition to the Pay Tel contract says that Jump agreed to a new service at the jail from Pay Tel. The company now has “the exclusive right to provide inmate video visitation services.” In exchange, Pay Tel agreed to “provide Glynn County Sheriff’s Office with a one-time technology grant in the amount of $160,000.” The contract does not specify what the money should be spent on.

A question of ethics?

The transaction and the semantics describing it appear to fall between two Georgia statutes regarding companies and government entities. 

A law signed by Gov. Brian Kemp in 2022 makes available $75 million in tax credits for individuals and corporations to donate to law enforcement foundations. The sheriff’s office does not have a foundation, but even if they did, “donations” from companies that do business with the police agency are expressly forbidden. 

Glynn County’s policies bar officials from receiving “kickbacks”, which include “any payment, gratuity … an inducement for the award of a contract or purchase of or for securing, any other objective sought by persons contracting, or seeking to contract with the County.”

Glynn County jail Credit: Studio 8 Design Architects

Jump said his agency follows the county’s policies. But county spokesperson Katie Baasen said they don’t have any oversight over what the sheriff does financially because he is an elected official. 

At Thursday’s meeting, commissioners asked few questions and seemed confused about the topic. 

Commissioner Bo Clark appeared to think Pay Tel, a corporation that reported $30.4 million in revenue in 2021, was a lone Good Samaritan wanting to donate to the sheriff. 

“It’s an illustration of the job y’all do down there sheriff, that whoever this person (is) recognized and thought it was able to help out,” said Clark, whose wife works at the sheriff’s office. “If they got more money, tell them we’re more than willing to take it.”

The county lawyer did not comment before the vote Thursday evening.

The jail will charge $0.30 per minute of video visitation calls, which amounts to $6 per 20 minute video call. The sheriff will receive 25% of the revenue while Pay Tel receives the other 75%, according to a contract document.

Earlier this week, Jump defended his ability to separate the ethics of Pay Tel’s payment from looking out for the financial interests of taxpayers.

“If a company came about and had better product than what they’re doing with Pay Tel for saving dollars,” Jump said, “We would certainly have to go with that company because you have to look out for what’s best for your citizens.” 

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...