By Alex Bridges -- firstname.lastname@example.org
Shenandoah County Sheriff Timothy Carter says he felt blindsided by some members of the RSW Regional Jail Authority who asked legal counsel if the board could sue protesters blamed for driving up the project debt.
"It was just troubling to me that apparently there was information shared by the regional jail authority board and the Shenandoah County board and I wasn't privileged to that information ... that was used for this resolution that the RSW Regional Authority Board passed," Carter said Friday.
The jail board passed a resolution at its meeting last month which asked the authority's attorney, Brendan Hefty, to look into whether the agency could seek legal recourse against foes of the project.
Opponents of Shenandoah County's involvement in the project have been blamed for spurring the Virginia Resources Authority to hold back the jail bond sale and, as a result, causing the agency to receive a higher interest rate on the debt. The report states the higher interest rate achieved on the loan as a result of the delay caused the total amount of the debt to rise by $1.74 million.
Carter also claims some authority board members didn't supply him with copies of documents distributed ahead of their meetings. The sheriff said he didn't receive a copy of the report handed out to the authority board which included the cost of the delay in the bond sale as well as other information about the project.
Authority board Chairman Douglas P. Stanley, also the county administrator for Warren County, explained Friday that he gave copies of the draft of a report by Davenport & Associates to county administrators from Shenandoah and Rapphannock counties, Douglas Walker and John McCarthy, respectively, who serve on the panel. The report outlined costs related to the financing, construction and operation of the regional jail.
The draft of the report was also not provided to the press or the public until the board meeting. Nor did the press or public see beforehand a statement read by Warren County North River District Supervisor Daniel J. Murray Jr. which spurred his motion. Shenandoah County Board of Supervisors Chairman, Conrad Helsley, seconded
Helsley has come out in defense of the motion, saying the request to seek legal recourse is a response to VRA's delay in selling the bonds. The opponents of Shenandoah County's involvement in the jail project have questioned the authority's action as a trampling of their right to free speech and some foes have asked whether Helsley, and ultimately his motion, had the support of the rest of the supervisors.
But even if Carter had seen the statement and the information from Davenport, the sheriff said he still would have opposed the action.
"I would have voted the same way," Carter said. "I asked the question 'why are we doing this' I mean it just didn't seem to make any sense to me. ... It apparently made sense to the group 'cause the group had already shared the information and I guess the group had already decided, or at least the majority had decided. Of course Rappahannock didn't sign. It just didn't make any sense to me why we would seek legal recourse with regards to people who were dissenting over a government business."
Carter questioned how the board could take action based on a document members had only received moments earlier.
The sheriff did not stand alone in opposing the board's request of its legal counsel. Rappahannock Supervisor's Chairman Roger Welch voted against the motion, indicating his opposition to seeking legal recourse against the protesters. Rappahannock County Sheriff Connie C. Smith did not attend the meeting.
Carter may appear as a rogue in the authority, often as a lone dissenter on board decisions. But by law Carter must remain on the authority board unless voted out of his office as sheriff or if Shenandoah County withdraws from the agreement.
Carter, by state code as the sheriff of a locality participating in the jail authority, serves on the board as a member by right, along with Warren County Sheriff Daniel T. McEathron and Smith. The Board of Supervisors for the participating localities also, by statute, choose among their membership as a representative on the authority leadership. The regional jail authority added as part of the agreement among the localities a provision to include the county adminsitrators from each jurisdiction to serve as members.