By JOSH NEWTON
When Cherokee County officials decided to build a new detention center northwest of Tahlequah nearly eight years ago, they selected Loyd Bickel as the facility’s first administrator.
“When they hired me, the roof wasn’t on; it wasn’t complete at all, so I began that process of creating policies, hiring staff, getting uniforms and badges – all the things that go into making the jail operational,” said Bickel. “It was quite a project, but yet it’s been very satisfying.”
Bickel has now stepped aside, and his retirement is expected to be official March 1, 2014.
While Bickel will make himself available if needed until March 1, CCDC Assistant Administrator T.J. Girdner has been named the interim administrator, according to Cherokee County commissioner and jail board member Bobby Botts.
“He’s on administrative leave; that was a board decision,” Botts said of Bickel. “He’ll be paid [until his retirement is finalized]. He’s been out there for seven years and has done a lot of good. He’s kept things going good; the jail’s in good shape, it’s paid off, and he wants to retire.”
Members of the Cherokee County Governmental Building Authority, which oversees jail operations, will begin taking applications for a new administrator in March, Botts said.
CCDC has 150 beds and averages 115 to 120 inmates. Bickel estimates 18,000 people have been through the jail since it opened.
“It’s in really good shape; financially, it is very, very fortunate,” said Bickel. “There are some good assets there now, good buildings, the jail’s in good shape. It’s probably the best time to leave because it is running so smooth. I’m available to them, but they’re not going to need me.”
Bickel is proud of the progress made by the jail’s staff since the center first became operational.
“Out of 31 employees, there were probably eight that had experience when we first began the project,” he said. “I was pretty much there for the first couple of months non-stop. It can be real easy to walk into a place that’s already operational and start fixing some things, but it’s a whole other story to start it from the ground up.”
Along the way, Bickel and other staff have faced some turmoil in the jail, including a lawsuit alleging the use of excessive force.
“You operate a facility, you can never operate it without some sort of either lawsuit or problem,” said Bickel. “It’s just the nature of that operation – you’re going to have some issues. You just have to lessen the odds of how bad things can be. It’s a difficult job, and I don’t know of a jail around that doesn’t have a problem, but I think if you compare the state of our jail to others around, you’ll see our facility is in really good shape.”
Bickel began working for the Muskogee Police Department in 1980.
After six years, he began working for the Muskogee County sheriff, where he spent 12 years. He later ran an unsuccessful campaign to be the Muskogee County sheriff, and became a jail inspector for the state for about five years.
“I then traveled as personal security for Richard and Lindsay Roberts, Oral Roberts’ son, for almost five years,” said Bickel.
“I had a great time, and it was a great opportunity. Then I decided I wanted to put my feet on the ground and not travel so much. A friend of mine told me about Cherokee County’s opening for an administrator, and I put in my application along with eight other applicants.”
Bickel said the support of county officials has been “wonderful” over the years, but now he looks forward to moving on with his life away from the jail.
“We’ve got a church down there at Choctaw and Cherokee, Crossroads Church, in Tahlequah, and we have a motorcycle ministry out of there,” said Bickel.
“I also ride with the Patriot Guard Riders, who escort military funerals, so these are some things I want to focus on now. After 33 years, I’ve just decided that it is time for me to do some things I really want to do.”