By Sally Voth -- email@example.com
Some of the Shenandoah County residents who have vehemently opposed the construction of the RSW Regional Jail vow they won't be cowed in the face of a threat of legal action.
The RSW Regional Jail Authority decided on a 5-3 vote Thursday to have their attorney explore whether there was any legal recourse against the jail opponents whose letter-writing campaign delayed the sale of $45.36 million in jail bonds by a couple of weeks.
Del. Bob Marshall, R-Prince William County, on Friday said he didn't think the decision would hold up in court.
The bonds were sold by the Virginia Resource Authority on June 7, rather than in a pool of other requests May 23.
During that time, the interest rate went up about one-tenth of a percent, which will result in about an additional $1.74 million in debt service over 30 years, Ted Cole of Davenport and Co. LLC, told the authority Thursday afternoon.
This prompted authority member Daniel Murray Jr., Warren County North River District supervisor, to propose the resolution.
He, Warren County Administrator Doug Stanley, Warren County Sheriff Daniel McEathron, Shenandoah County Administrator Doug Walker and Shenandoah County Supervisors Chairman Conrad Helsley voted for the resolution.
Shenandoah County Sheriff Timothy C. Carter, Rappahannock County Administrator John McCarthy and Rappahannock County Supervisor Roger Welch opposed it.
A week before the May bonds sale, the citizens group bombarded VRA board members and staffers with emails, according to a memo from VRA program management director Peter D'Alema to Stanley, who chairs the jail authority.
"Throughout the course of the week of May 14, 2012, the email correspondence from the citizen group escalated in frequency and tone, culminating with unspecified threats of legal action regarding the 2012 Spring Pool and the RSW Jail Project," the memo states.
Woodstock attorney Brad Pollack also sent letters prior to the bonds sale to Virginia Secretary of Commerce and Trade Jim Cheng; Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg; Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Woodstock; Del. Beverly Sherwood, R-Winchester; and Del. Michael Webert, R-Marshall.
In the letter to Cheng, Pollack asked for the sale to be put on hold while the VRA investigated the issue, which Pollack claimed was unconstitutional.
"The violation is that the RSW Regional Jail Authority Service Agreement was not approved by the voters as required by Article VII, Section 10, of the Virginia Constitution," the letter states.
Pollack's letter to the legislators asked them to pressure Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to confirm that the three participating county boards of supervisors could choose to not honor the debt obligations of the authority.
In a Friday afternoon phone interview, Pollack said he hoped the First Amendment protected him and the others who tried to stop the sale.
"All we were doing was speaking the truth," he said. "As far as we're concerned, this whole endeavor is patently unconstitutional without a vote of the people. If this boondoggle turns out to be as bad as we predict it is, is [Murray] going to pony up the $100 million to pay back the taxpayers?
"We're not going to stop fighting this thing. As I see it, these bond issues have been an unconstitutional ploy that the money people have been doing for 20, 30 years."
Another vocal critic of the regional jail project, Cindy Bailey, also said she wouldn't be silenced. She questioned whether the bonds sale could've been delayed a week or two to see if the interest rates went back down.
"It was their choice to go ahead and sell them when they did with the increased interest rate," said Bailey, who was chief jailer of the Shenandoah County Jail when she retired. "All along, they've been so quick to spend taxpayer money on this project. This is going to cripple Shenandoah County's economy if we allow this to go through.
"We're filing a lawsuit. They did this yesterday to try to shut us up. That's all this was. It was a scare tactic and shame on them."
Bailey said the jail opponents plan to turn out at the Board of Supervisors' meeting on Tuesday.
"We're not intimidated by their lawsuit," she said. "We have the constitution and freedom of speech on our side."
Bailey is right, according to Marshall, who became acquainted with some of the jail protestors as he campaigned for the Republican nomination for a U.S. Senate seat. On Friday, Marshall said he'd consulted with three attorneys with the legislative services, who he said legislators rely on when drawing up statutes.
"They were scratching their heads as to what grounds there could possibly be to sue citizens who were merely conveying information to other agencies of the commonwealth," Marshall said. "They said unless they're chaining themselves and blocking the meeting, or something like that, they didn't understand the [decision] of the jail board to direct their attorney to do that."
Additionally, the VRA, and not the citizens group, made the decision to pull out of the sale, Marshall said.
"The supervisors, or the ones on the jail board, should've figured that out," Marshall said.