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Telford resident tackles committee over courthouse

Tired of the rumors, innuendos and catty comments criticizing county leaders, one Telford resident decided to conduct a personal review of the Washington County Courthouse renovations.
“I wanted to do my own research,” John E. Stewart Jr. said. “That’s the type of work I did for 30 years, and I took an interest in the courthouse.”
Stewart is a retired licensed building contractor with experience in projects of this type for government, schools, industry and commercial construction. He moved to Jonesborough from Asheville, N.C., 10 years ago.
A regular attendee at commission and committee meetings, Stewart says he enjoys the give and take among commissioners, and finds that kind of candor refreshing.
“I like the fact that I have representation and think some commissioners are doing an admirable job,” he said. “Others are in it for the paycheck and don’t even read the agenda (packet) before the meetings.”
To begin his review, Stewart went online to read meeting minutes and a copy of the report by architect Hiram Rash, whom commissioners unanimously approved to serve as construction supervisor during their November 2013 meeting.
He then borrowed a set of plans from Zoning Administrator Mike Rutherford and toured the site at the end of last month.
Stewart presented his findings during the March 4 meeting of the County-Owned Property Committee.
Among the thoughts and observations he offered in writing as a private citizen are the chairman’s platform does not meet code requirements and deviates from the plan. “That platform has to come out,” he told committee members. “I read Rash’s report, but he missed that one.”
Stewart also writes the wiring in place should have been in metallic conduit rather than armored cable, and there is no evidence of pipe or conduit for future electrical or service needs.
“The plans are professionally done, but I do see signs of an ego at work,” he said. “I feel that this plan has all the trappings of a king’s court and is very non-inclusive of the citizens, as well as not in keeping with the open and inclusive nature of our government.”
Stewart laid the blame for the problems on more than one party. “The project has been mishandled and the commission was misled, but this body was at fault also as they allowed themselves to be manipulated,” he told commissioners.
He also disagreed with the use of inmate labor, which Corso said Rash made very clear he could not use when he was hired for the project.
“The public is being told that such skills are within the inmate population, but the reality is this is an unreliable labor pool and at best should be relied on to accomplish work only on the laborer level,” Stewart said.
As for the project budget, Stewart feels a “best guess” method was used. “How anyone could arrive at such a low figure is beyond my comprehension,” he said.
After Stewart’s report, Chair Phyllis Corso said Commissioner Joe Sheffield had presented her with a motion he requested she read on his behalf.
The motion requests (1) the mayor respond to the committee’s fourth request for a full accounting of costs associated with the courthouse renovations; and (2) the commission chair request the county’s auditors conduct an audit of the project.
Ferguson seconded the motion, which passed with unanimous approval.
“I think we need to persuade the Budget Committee to quit quibbling about using inmate labor, which we cannot do, and quit quibbling about the cost,” Corso said.
The next Budget Committee meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, March. 12.