Jail fixes source of ongoing conflict

Published 7:35 pm Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Beaufort County Board of Commissioners got off to a slow start at Monday’s meeting, with a heated exchange between Commissioners about adding items to the agenda. But it was another issue that continues to stay at the forefront of county politics: the jail.

Stop the Jail committee chairman Harold Smith spoke during the public comment period of the meeting, reading a list of the committee’s recommendations to county commissioners. Over the last year, the group of county residents has been instrumental in slowing, if not halting, the plans in motion to build a new public safety facility, which would include a detention center, in Beaufort County.

Smith read the recommendations of the committee to Commissioners: petition the court for the removal of the order issued by Superior Court Judge Wayland Sermons Jr. to bring the existing jail up to, and maintain, state code; develop a long-range county facilities plan before any further consideration is given to funding a public safety facility, and prioritize the needs of the county into categories — immediate, short-term, intermediate and long-term — to be reviewed and revised annually, as well as include a strategy for capital financing and debt management; and that the Board direct the county manager to present a proposal for the development of that long-range plan at the Board’s March meeting.

Smith also told Commissioners about the Stop the Jail committee’s efforts to obtain grants to fund a far-reaching study of the current jail, the courthouse, law enforcement departments and offices, including bail bondsmen; how the policies and practices of each impact the jail; as well as report on general population, jail population and sentencing trends in the courts.

“Our committee has done a great deal of research and has accumulated valuable information on how to approach the planning, design and, ultimately, the construction or renovation of an appropriate detention facility for Beaufort County and we are prepared to share it with the Board and staff as you deem appropriate,” Smith told the Board.

Another Stop the Jail committee member, Ray Leary, expressed concern about the fact that the Board voted not to address plumbing problems in the jail at a previous meeting.

The Board took no action on the Stop the Jail Committee recommendations.

The Board also did not take up Commissioner Hood Richardson’s attempt to rescind a previous vote not to make plumbing repairs at the jail, which he argued changed an item on the budget ordinance and required a budget amendment — not a simple vote. The Board voted in December not to move forward with a new plumbing system until the SBI returned its findings in the investigation of the death of a jail inmate — a suspected suicide — on Nov. 30, 2014. County Public Works Director Christina Smith, at the time, told Commissioners that repairs to plumbing were being made, but a new system would require a complete modernization that could not be done piecemeal.

Later in Monday’s meeting, Richardson made a motion for a resolution to remove Sermons’ order — one of the Stop the Jail committee recommendations. It was voted down 5-2, with Commissioners Belcher, Booth, Brinn, Buzzeo and Langley voting against.





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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