Opinion on jail displayed at public hearing

Published 7:08 pm Tuesday, July 8, 2014

An already heated issue got even hotter Monday evening at a public hearing where residents denounced the county’s plan to fund and build a new jail.

At the hearing, more than a dozen residents, most of who are against construction of a new jail, spoke out, urging the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners to rethink the decision to move forward with construction. Those opposing argued a new jail was not needed and that, if built, it would raise property taxes for residents. It was also argued the jail would not be good for Chocowinity’s economy. Rebuttals from supporters of the jail echoed the need for a new jail due to the current jail’s conditions.

The “Stop the Jail Committee,” a group opposing a new jail, filed a lawsuit last week after a June 3 public hearing in Chocowinity, whether a zoning ordinance should be changed to allow construction of the jail. The lawsuit claims the Town of Chocowinity and its board of commissioners violated the state’s open meetings law because the town had prior notice about the number of people scheduled to attend the hearing and the meeting should have been moved to an appropriate venue so all could participate.

Members of that group were present at Monday night’s public hearing and spoke out strongly against the county seeking a U.S. Department of Agriculture loan to build the jail. By law, in order for the county to secure the loan, a public hearing is required.

Beaufort County Board of Commissioners Chairman Jerry Langley said the jail is necessary and he backs up that opinion with 14 years of service as a deputy. He says the current jail’s conditions are not good.

Those commissioners opposing the jail — Hood Richardson, Gary Brinn and Stan Deatherage — said, under North Carolina’s General Statutes, a government cannot go into debt without having the approval of its voters in a referendum. However, those commissioners in favor of a new public safety facility, which will house emergency management, 911 operations, the sheriff’s office and a detention center, said since they are using land owned by the county as collateral to build the jail, they are within their legal rights to move forward.

Monday at 4 p.m. Commissioner Gary Brinn called a press conference at the Beaufort County Administrative Offices, announcing his opposition to the USDA loan.

Beaufort County Commissioner Gary Brinn sent out a press release denouncing the county’s plan to secure USDA financing. Brinn also expressed his displeasure with Chairman Jerry Langley for the nature of how the public hearing was called. Brinn said not enough time or notice was given for those against a new jail to come down and participate in the hearing.

“(He) did not have the common courtesy to advise us of this alleged open hearing today,” Brinn said.

During the press conference, the three commissioners opposing the jail, along with Beaufort County NAACP President Bill Booth signed a letter to the USDA appealing the request for a loan to build the jail and presented it to Kimberly Miller of USDA Rural Development during the commissioners’ meeting.