Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

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July 25, 2012

Carter approves regional jail proposal

GRAYSON — Overcrowding caused a change in the meeting place for a special meeting of the Carter County Fiscal Court on Wednesday, although County Judge-Executive Charles Wallace made it quite clear he was uninterested in considering the concerns of any county residents opposed to a proposed regional jail.

State Rep. Jill York, R-Grayson, asked to address the board before the magistrates voted on two resolutions regarding a regional jail proposal, only to have Wallace ask if she was the spokesman for the entire audience and advising her all comments would be limited to five minutes. Possibly in response to the audience’s vocal reaction, Wallace allowed York to speak.

Keeping her comments concise, York cited her experience as a county magistrate and advised the fiscal court her office has been contacted by many residents who oppose the regional jail concept. York said the work of county officials toward a regional jail is not finished when the resolutions are approved and cautioned the county board to consider the consequences of their actions.

York said the magistrates would have public support if the regional jail plan were “right.”

York concluded by reminding the magistrates and county judge-executive of the oath they took when entering office, saying “Right now, it feels like a bad idea. It feels like a rush to judgment and something we can’t afford.”

Magistrate Clifford “Sodbuster” Roe made a motion to approve a second reading of the first jail-related resolution before York had even taken her seat, causing an immediate reaction from the audience calling for continued public input. Wallace called for a single spokesman to express the crowd’s concerns, prompting former magistrate Millard Cordle to deliver several angry comments before being gaveled down by Wallace.

Jailer R.W. Boggs then reminded Wallace that he had previously stated the board was waiting for additional information about a regional jail, although no new information has been presented for consideration. Boggs also cautioned the fiscal court to consider consequences of the proposed action.

“When you mark your vote today boys, you label yourself something ... good or bad,” Boggs said.

Former magistrate Jeff Flaugher also spoke briefly and cited the county’s budget and jail spending before concluding, “We didn’t put you in office, but we can sure take you out.”

In response to comments by retired teacher Ada Steele, Wallace again seemed frustrated and stated it was not his fault if everyone present had not seen a rough draft of the proposed regional jail finances. Boggs, who pointed out discrepancies in the figures included in that rough draft, said the document is “a farce ... the rough draft was just bogus.”

Mark Strother, a Grayson banker and member of the group Carter County Citizens For a Better Way, said he felt the fiscal court acted inappropriately and insulted Magistrate Brad Brammell by refusing to schedule Wednesday’s special meeting at a time when the magistrate would be able to attend.

“That’s a disrespect to my magistrate and he deserves better,” he said. After asking Wallace about information which might prove the county could save money by pursuing a regional jail, Strother ultimately put his hands in the air in an “I give up,” gesture and agreed with Boggs description of the rough draft proposal for the regional jail as “bogus.”

Wallace then introduced Vince Lang, executive director of the Kentucky County Judge/Executive Association. Without endorsing the regional jail proposal, Lang said his own experience as a county judge-executive in western Kentucky tells him some decisions must be made even if they aren’t popular.

When Lang looked to Wallace and said he is certain the Carter County official has talked to people on both sides of the issue, audience members essentially shut him down and explained he was simply unaware of the political motivations and alleged improprieties they have witnessed.

Lang said he wanted to be fair about the issue and stated he has often discussed jail concerns with Wallace and Boyd County Judge-Executive William “Bud” Stevens during the past 10 years. When Lang mentioned the Big Sandy Regional Detention Center, Wallace brought the conversation to a quick end by banging his gavel and declaring “Time’s up! Time’s up! Time’s up!”

County Attorney Patrick Flannery advised the fiscal court he had written a letter regarding the regional jail proposal which he asked be included in the county’s records. In that letter, Flannery states his belief that the county can’t form a regional jail authority without a “brick and mortar” facility, and his expectation that litigation will follow as a result.

Flannery said he has asked the attorney general for an opinion on the issue of the jailer as an independently elected, constitutional office-holder, and asked the fiscal court to delay further action until the attorney general has responded. Flannery further stated in the letter that precedents show “that it is not so easy for counties to remove themselves” from a regional jail authority.

“It is my position that a Regional Jail Authority cannot exist without an actual regional jail and that a regional jail violates the Kentucky Constitution, in that it strips power away from one constitutional office and gives it to another,” Flannery wrote.

After denying Boyd County Jailer Joe Burchett any opportunity to speak, Wallace threatened to have people removed from the audience, just before Roe made a motion to approve the second regional jail resolution. Each of the jail resolutions was approved by a 3 to 2 vote, with magistrates Brammell and Brandon Burton voting against the proposal. Wallace asked for a motion to adjourn immediately after the second vote.

Audience members remained seated as the fiscal court members left through a back door in the upstairs courtroom. Several individuals, including Boggs, York and Flannery spoke to those who stayed behind, saying the regional jail issue will be an ongoing process with many opportunities to express opposition.

Speaking of the meeting they had just attended, a man in the back of the room said, “What we saw here today was communism.”

TIM PRESTON can be reached at tpreston@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2651.

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