By Sally Voth -- firstname.lastname@example.org
The RSW Regional Jail Authority today directed its attorney to explore whether legal action can be taken against some Shenandoah County residents who have tried to stop the jail project.
Several authority members objected to the action, with Shenandoah County Sheriff Timothy C. Carter -- who has long opposed the project -- particularly speaking against it, and taking umbrage when it seemed he was included in any possible legal action. Barbs were traded among several of the authority members as a result.
Warren County North River District Supervisor Daniel J. Murray Jr. introduced the resolution at the authority's afternoon meeting after Ted Cole, of Davenport and Co. LLC told the authority that a delay in a bonds sale resulted in higher interest rates that would cost the three jurisdictions involved in the regional jail -- Shenandoah, Warren and Rappahannock counties -- an additional $47,595 in debt service every year for 30 years.
The Virginia Resource Authority sold $45.36 million in bonds on June 7, rather than in a pool with other requests on May 23 after a group of jail foes threatened legal action. By that time, the interest rate had climbed from about 3.9 to 4 percent.
In an email dated May 15 to William G. O'Brien, chairman and director of the VRA board, jail critic Cindy Bailey cites a clause in the regional jail authority agreement that states if the commonwealth does not agree to fund 50 percent of the anticipated eligible construction costs, the jail authority would not proceed without approval from the governing bodies of the three participating localities.
It's been estimated the state will fund about 45 percent of the project.
According to a June 19 memo from VRA program management director Peter D'Alema to Warren County Administrator Doug Stanley, who is the jail authority's chairman, Shenandoah County residents started sending emails to VRA board members and staff on May 13.
"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.
With the higher interest rates, the total net debt service is expected to be $79.9 million, as compared to $78.16 million, according to the memo.
"There were certainly additional costs of issuance that the RSW Regional Jail incurred by being in a pool by itself, versus being in a pool with several other issuers," Cole said.
According to the memo, the debt service reserve fund went up more than $70,000 to about $3 million, among other price increases.
During Thursday's meeting, Murray said the partners on the regional jail have worked hard to keep costs down, and he was "extremely dismayed" that a "handful" of Shenandoah County residents had tried to derail the project.
He said Warren County taxpayers would be on the hook for about $25,000 more each year because of the higher interest rate. That amount of money could pay for a sheriff's vehicle, a teacher's aide or go to a non-profit agency, Murray said.
"I urge the board to see if there's any legal action that can be taken [against] those responsible and hold them accountable for the waste of our money," Murray said.
In a Thursday evening phone interview, Murray explained what he'd said about "some officials" during the meeting. He said some officials had been identified by jail opponents as being opposed to the jail and the financing, and because they hadn't spoken up to refute those claims, "they are just as culpable as the others."
"I'm not blaming anybody," he said. "I'm blaming the contingent of people that sent these nastygrams, emails, of intent to [file a] lawsuit. After six or seven years, this is insane. It's a done deal. Millions have been spent and now you want to be a good shepherd of the people's money? If you disagree, say you disagree. Don't bite your lip and say nothing, but speak out."
Murray wouldn't say that he was referring to Carter.
"I'm referring to a couple people that said nothing and were really against it [and] could've spoken up long before I got there against it," he said.
Murray, who was elected to the Board of Supervisors in November, said he wasn't sure if those "couple people" were part of the anti-jail group.
"They appear to be supporters of that group," he said. "I'm not asking to sue. I'm asking what recourse we have."
During Thursday's meeting, Carter objected to Murray's motion.
"I think as part of that resolution, I think he's referring to me as being culpable," Carter said at the authority meeting.
Murray said he hadn't said anyone by name.
While he said he didn't have a prepared statement, Carter said he felt obligated to speak.
"I think I have an obligation to bring forth options to my county, and I've done that," he said. "If you want to compare costs, compare it to what I originally brought forward to my board. If we want to dig back that far and dig up all the information, we can do that."
Carter said he'd tried to be a viable member of the jail authority, and that he didn't think the regional jail was the best option.
"That's fine," he said. "We can disagree. I'm okay with that. I wasn't a part of that group that came and spoke here, but I think citizens should have the right to voice their opinions such as these, or any matter for that matter, with regard to the expenditure of tax dollars. I don't see any problem with that.
"It just doesn't feel right that a board that's representing people now wants to attack those very individuals because they question the board's decision."
Carter told the authority he hadn't tried to derail the process, but said he thought there were other ways to address overcrowding at the Shenandoah County Jail.
"I disagree that we should spend this amount of money and not know what the local impact to Shenandoah County is going to be," he said. "We still to this day do not know what the local impact is going to be to the citizens of Shenandoah County. For citizens to question that, I don't have a problem with that."
Carter "misinterpreted" Murray's prepared statement, Warren County Sheriff Daniel McEathron said. He said he thought the statement referred to the effect on the bonds sale.
Carter said the interest rates during any given week could be debated indefinitely.
"But, this little group of so-called taxpayer shepherds ..." McEathron said. "Who was involved? The names are out there so that's who has to take credit."
Shenandoah County Supervisors Chairman Conrad Helsley responded to Carter's earlier comment referring his idea of converting the current sheriff's office to a work-release center for $1.1 million.
"The reason maybe we're even here today is a call I got shortly after I got on the board from the sheriff, telling me that we needed to do something in Shenandoah County [about the jail]," Helsley said. "There's where it really started. When we were talking about this $1.1 million, we wanted the people who would make the decisions [to] come to Shenandoah County."
Carter said he didn't come up with the $1.1 million figure, but that it had come from county advisors. He said the response from a Virginia Department of Corrections official referred to by Helsey was contradictory, with other corrections staff saying the work-release project was "doable."
"The reason we are here rehashing this came last November when you regurgitated it," Helsley said.
Carter said the full costs of the regional jail for Shenandoah County, including transporting prisoners and possible holding cells in the localities, aren't known.
"There's where you can be very much involved," Helsley said.
Carter responded, "I have tried to do that privately and publicly. Conrad, come on now. I've tried to do that for six years."
He asked whether the legal advice regarding recourse against the anti-jail group was because its action resulted in a higher interest rate, or because the citizens threatened litigation.
"It's hand-in-hand," McEathron.
Carter said he'd been threatened with lawsuits before, and the proposal was "irregular."
"You can vote no," McEathron said.
Stanley said it was just asking if there was any recourse, and wasn't taking action.
In addition to Carter, Rappahannock County Administrator John McCarthy and Rappahannock County Supervisor Roger Welch also voted against the motion.