A moving issue: Site for new jail raises concerns

Published 3:07 pm Saturday, March 29, 2014

Some people believe that building a new Beaufort County jail at the Chocowinity Industrial Park could harm businesses in downtown Washington, where the existing jail is located.

Others believe moving the jail to south of Chocowinity is a first step in relocating the county seat, which is in Washington.

Still others, after learning a new jail, a new sheriff’s office, a new 911 center and a new emergency operations center would be housed in the same complex at the Chocowinity Industrial Park, wonder what other county offices may leave Washington.

In recent months, the issue has been broached at several Beaufort County Board of Commissioners meetings. Most such comments came during the public-comment section of the board’s meetings.

If Washington officials share those concerns, they’ve been quiet, if not silent, when it comes to discussing the issue publicly.

City Manager Brian Alligood explained the City Council’s position on the matter.

“Right after I first got here, there were some conversations about that. City Council made the statement at that time that, as county residents — all city residents are county residents, as well — that they believed the county needed to look at that and make the best decision, both physically and operationally, that they could for the citizens of the county. Just do what was best in that regard. City folks are county residents, and that’s what they were charged with doing. So, they (council members) certainly would hope that they (commissioners) would look at all that and make the right decision. That was their statement at the time — and that haven’t changed from that,” Alligood said.

As for concerns about Washington losing county offices to other areas in the county or the county seat moving, Alligood said he hasn’t heard any talk about that happening.

“In one of the conversations I had with Randell (Woodruff, county manager), he said that was not the intent and they actually had some work planned (regarding the courthouse and existing jail in its basement),” said Alligood, referring to the county budgeting $2 million for renovation and improvements to the courthouse complex. “Randell said to me there’s not intent to do that and, in fact, they were going to spend money to do additional work to the courthouse and bring it up to the places it needs to be.”

During a Beaufort County jail committee meeting Thursday, the matter of the $2 million budgeted for courthouse improvements was discussed. Beaufort County Commissioner Al Klemm believes that is evidence there is no movement regarding the wholesale movement of county offices outside of Washington.

“Absolutely not,” Klemm said Saturday about the likelihood other county offices or the county seat moving out of Washington. “There is absolutely zero intention of moving the courthouse.”

Klemm said some people opposed to building a new jail are distributing misleading information and information that is “nonfact-based just to motivate the public to oppose the jail.”

Commissioner Gary Brinn believes there is some basis for people to be concerned about other county offices leaving Washington.

“To me it looks like just a process. You take one thing and move it over there. Then, it’s ‘That’s over there. Let’s go move the lawyers over there.’ All of a sudden, you have nothing left in Washington,” Brinn said Saturday. “I do feel that is a real concern, even though it would take the (Legislature) to move the county seat; but if everything is already over there, the Legislature probably would agree with that.”

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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