Opponents File Suit to Halt Jail Construction
BY FLORENCE GILKESON
Opponents of building a larger county jail have filed a lawsuit in attempt to halt construction.
Despite efforts to obtain a preliminary injunction, work was continuing this week on the public safety-detention center site in downtown Carthage.
A civil summons was served on county officials late Monday, but County Manager Cary McSwain said the summons does not change the construction situation. The complaint filed by jail opponent Bert Patrick is scheduled for a hearing in Moore County Superior Court on Jan. 10.
"It doesn't make any sense," McSwain said Tuesday in a brief telephone interview.
McSwain said the bonds have already been sold and work has begun on the 21-acre tract purchased from Johnny Grimm more than three years ago.
D.H. Griffin Construction, the company awarded the $27 million contract, moved its equipment onto the site and began work about two weeks ago, according to Dennis Brobst, public works director.
Brobst said Tuesday that he has received no instructions to halt work on the contract and expects the contractor to continue working. The schedule calls for grading, storm drain management, sediment control and similar work to be carried out this week.
He also said that the company plans to begin demolition of buildings on the site today.
The legal complaint filed Dec. 3 by Patrick seeks an injunction to halt plans for the detention center. The complaint lists Moore County and the Moore County Board of Commissioners as plaintiffs, according to a news release from John Marcum's Right2Vote group.
The complaint lists three objections. The first says that the location of a detention center in proximity to schoolchildren represents violation of the Jessica Lunsford Law, which prohibits convicted sex offenders from being in the proximity of minor children. Jessica's Law was never adopted by Congress but has been enacted by 42 states.
The complaint also cites the issuance of limited obligation bonds rather than general obligation bonds to fund the capital project and further says that the resolution approving the measure contains incorrect information and was approved by commissioners with a conflict of interest.
Marcum's group said in the news release that a preliminary injunction is sought "to halt issuance of the bonds and stop any construction, pending a court hearing on the merits, and declaratory judgments are requested to be issued against the location, method of financing, and participation in voting by commissioners having a conflict of interest in the issue."
The site is adjacent to the county's existing jail, and the design plan calls for possible use of the newer portion of the old jail as part of the new, enlarged facility, which will also provide quarters for such public safety agencies as emergency medical services, emergency management and the enhanced 911 communications system.
The Sheriff's Office is to be moved from its present quarters in the basement of the Courts Facility into the new building.
The new jail is to accommodate as many as 192 inmates but is designed to be expanded. With the 68 beds in the existing jail and changes in the cell makeup, the facility has the potential to accommodate as many as 324 inmates.
The conflict of interest issue is directed at Commissioners Larry Caddell and Nick Picerno because of their connection with Southern Software, which provides computer software for the sheriff and related agencies.
Picerno, elected chairman of the board at a Monday meeting, no longer takes an active part in the company's operations but does serve as chairman of the board. Caddell now serves as CEO.
However, some of the software was purchased prior to both men's service on the board, and other software was donated by the company. Picerno was not a commissioner when the two transactions were made.
The commissioners awarded the construction contract to D.H. Griffin at a September meeting. Their 3-2 vote was taken after the board conducted a public hearing that lasted about two and a half hours.
Site of the complex has been the subject of heated opposition from a number of people in the past year. The opposition did not emerge until after the county had approved preliminary architectural plans for the site and the building.
Among the primary objections has been the location in the center of Carthage, the county seat and a municipality of about 2,000 residents. Opponents charge that the building will be too large for such a small community and will turn Carthage into a prison town. The site, including the existing jail, is within a block of two churches, a school and a public library, as well as the historic courthouse and the Courts Facility.
Later objections centered on the board's decision to issue limited obligation bonds rather than general obligation bonds.
Patrick spearheaded the group opposing location of the detention center in downtown Carthage.
Marcum, who lives in Pinehurst, later joined the movement and formed the group known as Right2Vote, which held two rally-type meetings last summer.
Contact Florence Gilkeson at email@example.com.
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