Prison food service back on gov’s plate

Gov. Rick Snyder never wanted to go there in the first place but instead of digging in to oppose it he relented to his “legislative partners” and signed legislation to privatize the food service in the state prison system.

And then the fun began.

Too bad nobody was around to remind this governor of what happened to former Gov. John Engler.

He boldly announced that he would hire an outside company to do the snow removal work on a segment of the state freeway system that was for years handled quite nicely by MDOT crews. The governor promised to save tax dollars refusing to adhere to the old adage, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Only problem was the road he picked was I-496 which is traveled every day by lawmakers and the capitol press corps.

So on the first morning when a nasty ice storm turned the freeway into a Red Wing practice rink, the workers from the private company were home snuggled in their warm and comfy beds at 3 a.m. when they should have been spreading salt for all those important people coming into work later that morning.

The private work crews finally showed up at 7 a.m. just in time to join all the tow trucks and displaced motorists who were in the ditch wondering where all the reliable orange MDOT trucks were.

Let’s just say it was an ugly start to an experiment that was eventually and quietly disbanded without nearly the fanfare that the embarrassed Mr. Engler used to launch it.

Now comes the unsuspecting Gov. Snyder who endured a barrage of ugly headlines that were more frequent, more troubling, and way more embarrassing than those endured by Mr. Engler starting almost immediately after the contract with Aramark was signed in December 2013.

“Maggots found in prison food.”

“Aramark employees have sex with inmates in kitchen cooler.”

Former Aramark food supervisor tried to hire an inmate to kill a fellow convict who murdered the supervisors relative.”

“Aramark fined by the state for not filling menu requirements.”

“Company violates health code including serving cake that was nibbled by rats.”

Finally as the bad news piled up, the governor cried uncle and on July 13, 2015, the state fired the company.

Apparently a glutton for punishment, instead of rehirng the state civil servants to run the chow line, the governor doubled down and brought in yet another private company which proceeded to pick up where Aramark left off.

More maggots, more sex, more violations, more of all the stuff that doomed the first company and then last February, the governor cried uncle for the second time and declared that the contract with the Trinity company was scrubbed and he asked lawmakers to rehire the state workers.

But Sen. John Proos (R-West Michigan) who engineered the privatization scheme from the outset, said, not so fast. He wanted proof this was not working because letting companies do the work in other areas has been successful, he contends

While apparently he got what he needed because he recently recanted and went along with the governor’s termination decision, but with a new wrinkle. Mr. Proos wants to pay new state workers the same wage that the private employees earned which is about $13 million less than what the civil servants were paid before this grand experiment was hatched.

“If we could afford it last year at “x” dollars, why should we afford it for $13 million more?” he asks.

Mr. Proos chairs the prison budget in the Senate but his House counterpart, Rep. Dave Pagel (R-West Michigan) does not agree. “We’re having enough trouble recruiting employees in the department and quality employees. I’m not sure that a big pay cut is the right way to move forward.”

It’s unclear how this will be resolved, but after five years of trying to prove that a private company can do it cheaper and better, the proof in this case never materialized.