Instead of locally sourcing its prison labor, the city of Pendleton is importing from Umatilla.

At a meeting Tuesday, an Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution administrator explained to the Pendleton City Council why inmate work crews were being manned by Umatilla’s Two Rivers Correctional Institution inmates rather than Pendleton’s EOCI.

In May 2016, the council reversed its 1987 ban on EOCI inmates working within city limits as public opposition to the stance dissipated. Lifting the ban was conditional on a report from EOCI updating the council on the program after a year.

Tom Lemens, the EOCI assistant superintendent of correctional rehabilitation, told the council that EOCI work crews were never introduced to Pendleton because of a shift in Oregon Department of Corrections policy.

Lemens said Level 1 inmates — prisoners deemed safe by the DOC to work in the community — were shifted from EOCI’s medium-security prisons to light-security facilities like TRCI. The Pendleton prison was no longer able to keep Level 1 inmates long enough to integrate them into a work crew before they were relocated to another institution.

Although circumstances could change, Lemens said he didn’t anticipate EOCI using work crews in Pendleton for the “foreseeable future.”

According to a report from both Umatilla County prisons, TRCI work crews spent just four days working for the city and four days working for St. Anthony Hospital in 2017. Duties included cleaning up around buildings and offices, general facility maintenance, rock moving and placement and basic construction.

City Manager Robb Corbett said the DOC work crews had been a “significant benefit” to Pendleton “without any issues.”

Dale Primmer, a city councilor and the director of Umatilla County Community Justice, said the council should “spare these folks a once-a-year dog-and-pony show” and pass a permanent reversal of the ban, which was approved unanimously. Despite no longer needing approval from the council, Lemens said he can return with annual reports on the work crew program.

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As the Pendleton Development Commission, the council also approved a $33,433 façade restoration to the family that owns old city hall.

That sum is equal to 25 percent of the project’s cost, which includes installing new windows at the 34 S.E. Dorion Ave. building. Unlike other façade grants, the money won’t be dispersed in thirds as the project goes along.

This is due to the city’s insistence that the building be insured before it provides any funding, said Charles Denight, the associate director of the development commission.

Diana Quezada, representing the family that owns old city hall, said the building can’t be insured until all the windows are installed.

The Quezadas are under a tight timeline to restore old city hall — the windows facing Southeast Dorion Avenue and Southeast First Street must be installed by mid-January, the rest of the windows replaced by mid-April and a certificate of occupancy obtained by Sept. 1. If any of the benchmarks are missed, the city can fine the owners or foreclose on the property.

Quezada said she was confident the project would get done on time.

An explosion at old city hall in July 2015 killed one of the Quezada’s family members, Eduardo Quezada, and badly damaged the building.

The Quezadas were previously on the brink of paying thousands of dollars in fines after missing a previous deadline to put a roof on the building by the beginning of 2017. Right before the case was set to go to trial in Pendleton Municipal Court, the city and the Quezadas reached a settlement that created their current arrangement.

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Contact Antonio Sierra at asierra@eastoregonian.com or 541-966-0836.

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