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Official irked at jail delays

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By The Staff

By DAMON LAWRENCE

rclawrence@bellsouth.net

Chris Johnson’s official title is 6th District County Commissioner.

However, he’s vowing to become overseer of the county’s new jail project. Construction is months behind schedule, and Johnson said he’s hopping mad about it.

“I have not heard any explanation that satisfies me why we can be four months behind,” Johnson said.

Henson Construction Services is overseeing the almost $10 million project. HCS president Cary Henson cited three reasons why the project is behind schedule:

• Sitework was stopped for about one month while the civil engineer redesigned water and sewer lines to the city of Kingston’s requirements.

• Weather delays due to an unusually wet winter have cost about one month.

• Site contractor (J&M Inc.) nonconforming work issues have cost the project about one and a half months in delays.

Johnson said he couldn’t find a legitimate excuse in any of those reasons.

“There’s no excuse for that jail to be four months behind,” Johnson said. “I’m not happy about it. As a commissioner, I’m pretty frustrated, to be honest.”

Johnson’s dismay was in sharp contrast to the comments shared last week by Commissioner James Harmon, chairman of the county’s jail construction oversight committee.

After so many issues have dogged the jail project, Harmon was asked why a meeting between the oversight committee and several contractors was so cordial.

“They’re straightening out and getting things done,” Harmon said. “They’re pouring concrete. That’s what we wanted to see.”

Johnson said it’s going to take a lot more than concrete to make him happy.

“The county commission is where the buck stops,” Johnson said.

“We have to answer to our taxpayers and our jail oversight committee is going to have to answer to them and our county executive. That’s what we’re elected to do.”

Johnson said taxpayers, many of whom are already struggling because of high gas and food prices, are concerned they may have to foot the bill if the jail goes over budget.

“I am concerned and will be monitoring that we’re on budget to best of my ability,” Johnson said.

To do that, Johnson vowed to stay in contact with County Executive Mike Farmer and budget director Alva Moore for updates about spending for the project.

Last month, Farmer said he didn’t know if the jail project would come in on budget or when it would be finished.

“What I’m going to have to start doing is simply calling, whether it be the county executive or Alva and make sure that I’m satisfied where we’re at as far as time and the budget is concerned,” Johnson said.

“That’s my responsibility.”

Some say the problem is jail project foreman George Myers. Myers said he’s not commenting to the Roane County News, but some county officials have had a lot to say about him and the way he’s handled the project.

During a sheriff’s liaison meeting last week, Commissioner Benny East said he thought Myers should be fired.

Sheriff Jack Stockton also didn’t have kind words to say about Myers.

Brian Mullins of Siteworx LLC, a subcontractor hired to do some groundwork on the project, has a tape recording where a voice that appears to be that of Myers can be heard saying, “It’s my mistake on the undercut geo-grid, 100 percent. I’ll take responsibility for that.”

Mullins said he put the “geo-grid” in the wrong place, but he was only following instructions given to him by Myers.

Siteworx has since filed a lawsuit which names the county as one of the defendants.

Whether it’s Myers, rain or redesigns, Johnson said he’s tired of hearing excuses about why the project is behind schedule.

“There’s to be no more excuses,” Johnson said. “We need to move forward.”