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Committee wants vote from full commission

County-Owned Property Committee members are recruiting support to get their plan for the courthouse renovations before the full commission for a vote regardless of input from the Budget Committee.
“I think we’ve all had time to calm down after the commission meeting, and I hope to have a productive meeting,” Chair Phyllis Corso said Feb. 5, referring to the heated exchange with Mayor Dan Eldridge following the January meeting.
Corso reviewed a list of expenses that have been questioned in the second floor renovation plans from architect Hiram Rash. “The Budget Committee had a problem with the casework,” she said. “I don’t know what the mayor planned to use instead, and the mayor not being here makes it harder.”
Commissioner Mitch Meredith, a member of the Budget Committee, said he understood the plan was to use the same combination of wood studs, sheetrock and oak trim that match the rest of the building rather than $38,000 of custom-built casework. Purchasing Agent Willie Shrewsbury concurred.
“We can do it cheap and ugly, but this is the most important building in the county,” Commissioner Alpha Bridger said.
Corso said the big sticking point with the Budget Committee is the use of inmate labor. “Inmates have no vested interest in finishing a job quick,” she said. “They have a second career as a felon and are happy to come over and work in a warm environment where ladies fix them lunch.”
Other risks with inmate labor, according to Corso, are faked accidents and theft.
“The first mistake in this project was not hiring a design-build firm,” she said.
Commissioner Joe Grandy, who also serves on the Budget Committee, said there was no reason to consider that option. “This project was not designed to be handled by a general contractor,” he said. “(Using inmate labor) was the way the project was put together and approved from the beginning.”
Rash said his review of the work to-date has not revealed any glaring deficiencies, and admitted he could not guarantee the project would be completed with the $150,000 in additional money requested by the County-Owned Property Committee.
Corso argued the commission should be consistent in its principles. “We increased the cost of the asphalt plant because we decided we needed professionals to do it, and we need to follow the same principle here,” she said.
Meredith said he is not comfortable spending additional money for a project the County-Owned Property Committee insists has no changes. “Forget the casework and use the inmates,” he said.
Corso asked committee members if they had suggestions for changes in the $150,000 request, urging them not be penny wise and pound foolish.
“I think the mayor needs to come back with a proposal,” Commissioner Mark Ferguson said.
Corso made a motion to send the original resolution back to the Budget Committee with no changes and, regardless of whether it is declined, on to the full commission.
Meredith said motions should not come from the committee chair, and Ferguson argued the practice is permitted.
Interim County Attorney Keith Bowers said the chair usually recognizes another committee member to make the resolution, and Commissioner Doyle Cloyd said it could come from him. Sheffield provided the second, and the motion passed with unanimous approval.
Commissioner Pete Speropulos invited committee members to join the Budget Committee at its Feb. 13 meeting, and Corso requested a reminder notice be sent.
In a later interview, Eldridge said he was absent from the County-Owned Property Committee meeting because he didn’t want the county exposed publicly in the same manner it was after the last commission meeting. “It’s obvious this is nothing but election-year politics, and it’s an embarrassment to everyone,” he said.
Eldridge said the repeated claims that the committee has been unable to get an accounting of costs to-date and cost to complete are untrue. “I gave them this seven or eight months ago,” he said.
It’s time for the commission to step in and set a direction for the project, according to Eldridge. “The entire process has lost touch with reality, and it’s politics at the taxpayers’ expense,” he said. “I don’t know of a county in the state that doesn’t take advantage of inmate labor.”
Commissioner Sam Humphreys also pointed to a need for a resolution during the Public Records Commission meeting on Feb. 6.
“What it boils down to, in my opinion, is politics,” he said. “Let’s get this settled.”
Dr. William Kennedy distributed a spreadsheet from Rash that includes all costs to-date as of April 2013 and construction budget, expenses and purchase order information as provided through Oct. 16, 2013.
Kennedy said he asked why volunteer labor couldn’t be used, and Rash said he doesn’t have a means to qualify the inmates’ abilities and they are not insured.
Eldridge said health care is provided to every inmate in the Detention Center under the county’s policy.
“We do not want to spend citizens’ money, but we put down extra money for an asphalt plant,” Bridger said.
“I think (the Highway Department) also got four new trucks,” Humphreys added. “If the two groups can’t get together, we should move on to the full commission.”
Kennedy made a motion for a resolution from the Public Records Commission in support of the County-Owned Property’s request, with a request for the Budget Committee and the full commission to adopt.
County Clerk Kathy Storey seconded the motion, which passed with unanimous approval.
Bridger urged committee members to ask anyone with influence to support the resolution.