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Commission to reveal jail site evaluations before making decision

The Pike County Commission has decided to have consultant Ken Upchurch of TCU Consulting Services to speak publicly about the evaluation of jail sites before the commission makes a vote on where to locate the new jail.

The commission has now talked about the data with Upchurch twice in executive session, but the data has remained confidential and two of four evaluated sites have not been shared publicly.

The commission has openly discussed two sites, Dunbar Drive and the site of the Pike County Road Department.

Commissioners have said it is important to discuss the matters of the jail site evaluations behind closed doors as the county needs to maintain negotiating leverage on a land purchase should they decide to choose an option other than the road department site, which the county already owns.

Chairman Robin Sullivan, District 2, said no vote was taken in executive session – no votes are allowed to be taken outside of an open public meeting – but commissioners have decided to invite Upchurch back to discuss the evaluations before the commission holds a vote.

“We will be having a chance for public comment before a vote,” Sullivan said. “(Upchurch) is compiling some information still to help us decide which site is the best, which is the most cost-efficient and we have to digest it and make a decision.”

Commissioner Chad Copeland, District 4, said the commission has been trying to balance the needs to keep certain information private while making negotiations and also remaining as open and transparent as possible to the public during the process.

“The general feeling from the commission was that there has to be some community comment before we voted on a site,” Copeland said. “We’ll have a presentation from Ken (Upchurch) as to how we got to where we are. How that all looks, I don’t know, but there will be some public discussion about how we came to these sites.”

Commissioner Homer Wright, District 1, said it is important to get more information from TCU and have that public meeting and then go ahead and make a final decision on where to build the jail.

“I think we’ve got it boiled down to two, I’m not 100 percent sure,” Wright said. “We’ve got to get some more information.”

Commissioner Russell Johnson, District 6, said the main thing is getting the information about the evaluations out ahead of the vote to give some background on the commission’s decision.

“We agreed to not just bring it up and vote on it,” Johnson said. “Ken Upchurch going to talk about the evaluations in public before the vote. We’re going to announce that and let it be known about when we are going to decide on the jail, we will not be bringing it out of the blue.”

Upchurch said the earliest that the public presentation of the evaluations will be is June 10, if the analysis is finished by then.

“They had several questions; we’re taking a deeper dive into some of the sites,” Upchurch said. “We’re in the process right now of doing that. Some of that we control the timing and some of that the potential landowners control the timing. I think I’m going to report back where we are at the meeting on June 10. If we’re finished and reported to them in executive session and they ask me to do it publicly I certainly would. I would recommend not discussing anything publicly until they have all of the answers … But they wanted to have a public meeting to have the data put out there so that the public could hear and understand everything they are considering.”

Commissioner Jimmy Barron, District 3, said there’s still information needed before the county can move forward.

“There’s a lot of material to cover and digest,” Barron said. “We’re taking our time. We want to look at every piece of information to decide which is the best site.”

Efforts to reach Commissioner Charlie Harris Wednesday were not successful.

The county will meet again on Monday, May 13 upstairs at the Pike County Health Department.

The work session will begin at 5:15 p.m. and the business meeting will continue at 6 p.m.