Commissioners ordered to move on jail

Published 8:31pm Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A court order to repopulate the Beaufort County Detention Center had another message for county commissioners: proceed with a new jail, in a timely fashion.

The court order issued by Second Judicial District Superior Court Judge Wayland Sermons Jr. reads that the Court found “the Beaufort County Jail has been repaired to a reasonably safe condition on a temporary basis,” but only a temporary basis.

Sermons orders “That the Board of Commissioners shall continue to plan and design a county jail that meets the minimum standards in the State of North Carolina. That such planning and construction shall proceed in as timely a manner as possible given the time restraints of architectural service, financing, and construction times.”

The order further states that the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners is now required to submit a written progress report on a new jail before each administrative session of Beaufort County Criminal Superior Court. The court order came with an attached list of those dates.

Sermons ordered the jail evacuated in June because of back-to-back power outages that plunged the jail into darkness with no back-up generator. Since, Beaufort County inmates have been housed at prisons in surrounding counties at a cost of nearly $360,000. Along with maintenance and repairs to the jail, the county is footing a bill of nearly $600,000 for the detention center’s troubles of the last few months.

According to Beaufort County Commissioner Jerry Langley, the court order to proceed won’t affect how he’s approaching the process of getting a new jail built.

“Basically, this order is a little push, to let us know he’s watching,” Langley said. “With the 4 to 3 vote, we have the votes to move forward. … We’re not going to slow down. We’re going to keep pushing forward and make it happen.”

Langley pointed out that the 4–3 vote from the county commissioners may reflect current thought, but it wasn’t originally the case.

“A lot of people don’t realize all seven commissioners said we need a new jail,” he explained. “It was only when it wasn’t going to be built behind the Courthouse that the votes changed.”

Throughout the past year, a committee made of stakeholders in the local jail met to determine a plan of action and design for a new facility. A clash over location caused a schism between commissioners, a difference that has railroaded discussions in previous years’ attempts to solve the ongoing jail issue.

Others, like Commissioner Gary Brinn, recognize the votes to move the jail-building process forward are there, but Brinn maintains county taxpayers should be involved because, ultimately, they will be paying for it. Brinn was lobbying for a jail referendum to put the question to the people, but his proposal was rejected during the commissioners’ Sept. 9 meeting — by a vote of 4–3.  Brinn questioned whether this further development — Sermons’ order to move on the jail — is overreaching.

“I think it’s a little more than an active role — I think he’s legislating from the bench and I don’t think he has the authority to do that,” Brinn said. “I don’t know how much authority our judge has, but I think he’s overstepped his bounds on this one.”

According to Beaufort County Sheriff Alan Jordan, his role is simple: follow the order of the court.

“That’s part of my oath,” Jordan said. “I will do my best to follow any orders, including this one. … I will continue to state my position: For years, I have hoped that the process would move forward. Once again, it remains to be seen what comes of this.”

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