Council: City should have been consulted on jail

Published 6:57 pm Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Washington’s mayor and City Council members are somewhat displeased that the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners did not consult them before voting recently to locate a new county jail at Beaufort County Industrial Park, which is co-owned by the city.
Although the commissioners have final say in where the jail will be built, city officials said — citing the city’s ownership stake in the industrial park — they would have liked to have been afforded an opportunity to weigh in on the location of a new jail. City officials don’t dispute the need for a new jail, but they are not sure the industrial park is the right location for it.
Sheriff Alan Jordan was present during the council’s discussion of the issue.
Councilman Doug Mercer said he doesn’t believe the council should interfere with the county’s deliberations “in what they want in way of a jail or how big a jail they want.”
“However, I did feel a little put out when I recognized that we are at least a major, almost half owner of the industrial park and the decision was made to put the facility in the industrial park with absolutely no discussion with this council in any way. I think if there had been some earlier discussion, we could have had a give-and-take with the county commissioners and suggested whether we thought it was a good idea. … I have no idea where they are talking about putting it. Are they taking about putting in the back, talking about putting it in the front?” Mercer said. “We’ve not been consulted at all.”
Councilman Moultrie said although he doesn’t believe the city should tell the county where to build a new jail, he would have liked for the county to have discussed jail sites with the city.
“I would have hoped the county commissioners would have considered us when coming up with the idea of putting the jail in the industrial park,” Moultrie said. “When I think about an industrial park, I think about businesses and companies, corporation going to an area such as that. I do think this county does need a new a jail for the safety of the (detention) officers and the inmates, but I don’t think that putting it in the industrial park … is a good place.”
Moultrie said he understands locating the new jail in the industrial park could save the county money because it would not have to buy land elsewhere for a new jail.
Council member William Pitt said a new jail is needed because the existing jail has “outlives its usefulness.” Pitt said the city should have a voice in the jail matter because it’s the county seat and has the largest municipal police force in the county, a force that would be making frequent trips to the new jail.
Councilman Richard Brooks said a new jail is needed.
“Putting it in the industrial park, in my opinion — I look for businesses to be out there, not a jail,” Brooks said. “I would certainly hope they (the county commissioners) would consider what we said tonight and look at it just a little bit more.”
After listening to the council members (Councilman Bobby Roberson did not attend the meeting), Mayor Archie Jennings summarized the council’s position.
“So, in summary, what I hear is the four of you saying it’s not so much in any way opposed to the new jail, or the size or the concept of even having it in a different location than downtown, it’s more of what’s proposed to go into our partnership-owned industrial park. Is that fair to say?” Jennings said.
“I think so,” replied Brooks.
Jordan told the council it’s not his job to find a location for a new jail, which is sorely needed for several reasons, primarily for safety. A new jail is long past due, he noted. Jordan said he worries that an unfortunate incident at the existing jail could lead to lawsuits filed against the county and costing taxpayers’ money.
“I beseech you to work the county commissioners are anyone else to keep this process rolling along. If that does not happen, then, like a lot of jails that get built, we will get built when something bad does happen and there’s a lawsuit and a judge is telling us when, where and how to build that jail,” Jordan said. “So, I’m glad to hear this discussion. I’ll come over here anytime you want to discuss the jail.”

About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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