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Officials miffed at behind-back decisions

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By The Staff

By DAMON LAWRENCE

dlawrence@roanecounty.com

Officials are still mulling what to do with some vacated county property.

However, one thing appears clear, some decisions about the space have already been made without input from the county’s property committee.

George Myers, the man who oversaw construction of the new jail, told commissioners during a recent workshop that he’s been doing extensive work on a small, white house the county owns adjacent to the new jail.  

“Who gave you permission to do that?” Commissioner Chris Johnson asked.

Myers said he received permission from Roane County Executive Mike Farmer.

Commissioner Benny East, chairman of the property committee, expressed displeasure that decisions are being made about county property without input from the property committee.   

“I guess the property committee would appreciate if this was discussed with them before we recommend to you and the county commissioners what to do,” East told Commission Chairman Troy Beets during the workshop. “We’ve got five good commissioners on this board. I think it’s just kind of belittling them a little bit to come up here and draw all this up and decide what you all are going to do. I’m not too satisfied with what you and Mr. Farmer have done to the property committee.”

Beets said he’s made no promises about the vacated property. 

“I don’t know what Mr. Farmer has done, but I have not promised anybody anything,” Beets said.

Farmer said he wants to see the county’s zoning office, currently on the third floor of the courthouse, moved to the white house.

“So people don’t have to come through the courthouse in order to get a building permit,” he said.

The election office is on the first floor of the courthouse. Administrator of Elections Charles Holiway said he learned his office was under consideration to be moved when he got a visit from some maintenance people.   

“The maintenance people came in my office and started measuring around,” Holiway said. “We asked them what they were doing. They said, ‘Well, we were told to come in here and measure your offices, but we can’t tell you why.’”

Purchasing agent Lynn Farnham prepared a memorandum for officials that called for the election office to be moved out of the courthouse and into the old jail.

Holiway said he’s not interested in moving to the old jail.

He gave several reasons, including concerns about security and voter inconvenience.

Holiway also questioned whether the old jail is fit to hold the election office.

“It’s not a situation where you’re going to go in today and sweep it out, mop it and put a coat of paint on the wall and move somebody else in,” he said. “I think there’s going to be a lot of renovations that has to be done over there.”

East said if the old jail was fit to be occupied, the county shouldn’t have built a new jail.

He suggested having a professional find out what’s wrong with the building before the county decides to move someone into it. Others expressed that sentiment as well.  

“Like Mr. East said, some of these things are going to be impossible to assign someone like the (old) jail until we find out what’s wrong with it,” Commissioner Jerry Goddard said. 

In addition to the old jail and the white house, the county also has some vacant space on the third floor of the courthouse in the old emergency management office.

Several ideas were tossed around at the workshop. Depending on what office goes where, more space could open throughout the courthouse.

Building inspector Glen Cofer said moving the zoning office to the white house will give his office more space.

“It will give us room to expand if we need to in the future,” Cofer said. “We won’t be closed up like we are right now.”

The juvenile office is interested in some space in the old jail. Farmer said he likes that idea because it would free up more space in the courthouse.

Farmer and other officials also said they think some space needs to be reserved in the old jail to store records.

Several people are interested in courthouse space.

Court clerk Angela Randolph said she’d like to acquire some additional office space for her employees.

Constable Butch Barding said he’d like the county to consider giving constables an office in the courthouse.

Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASA, said it would like space in the courthouse.

Magistrate Charles Crass wants some space on the third floor to hold proceedings.

“It will be a small room and it may be too small, but it will be better than where we are now when rooms are not available,” Crass said. “We’re begging for courtroom space, and we don’t have it.” 

The property committee met on Sept. 24.

Members decided to tour the old jail before making any recommendations. 

East told Crass he’s planning on him getting the space in the old emergency management office.

East also told Holiway that he didn’t think the election office would be moved from the courthouse.  

“I don’t think you’ll have no problems keeping the election commission where it’s at,” East said. 

“That’s where we’re at right now,” Johnson added. “The commission could change it.”