Group to discuss jail transport issue

By Alex Bridges

Authorities in Shenandoah County could face longer drives and time away from their communities when taking prisoners to the new regional jail.

The Rappahannock-Shenandoah-Warren Regional Jail is scheduled to open July 1. A group of county and town officials plans to meet today to discuss the issue and possible solutions for law enforcement agencies.

The meeting of the working or study group is not open to the public, County Administrator Mary Beth Price said Thursday.

“I consider it no different than a staff meeting,” Price said. “This is not a group that was appointed by the board [of supervisors].”

The group may make a presentation to the Board of Supervisors at its Oct. 8 meeting, Price said.

“We will be making a presentation when we’re at that point and that’ll be forthcoming and soon, I hope,” Price said.

But until then, the working group can meet and discuss the issue without notifying or making the sessions open to the public.

The Virginia Freedom of Information Act defines and sets requirements to make certain meetings open to the public. The working group is exempt from those requirements, Alan Gernhardt, staff attorney for the FOIA Advisory Council, said Thursday.

The group consists of Price, Board of Supervisors Chairman Conrad Helsley, Sheriff Timothy C. Carter, New Market Town Manager Evan Vass, Shenandoah County Budget Manager Garland Miller and Woodstock Police Chief E.L. Reiley.

“Based on membership … that in itself is not going to make [the group]
subject to FOIA,” Gernhardt said. “The reason being, you don’t have three or more members of a single, public body there. You’ve got various officials and employees and a couple of elected officials but none of them of serve on the same body for meeting purposes.”

Price explained that the current working group has members from a panel of eight people appointed in 2012 by Carter and then County Administrator Douglas Walker to conduct a staffing study of the sheriff’s office. The membership has since changed.

In late June, representatives for some of the towns and their police departments met with the Board of Supervisors and RSW Regional Jail Superintendent Robert Mulligan to talk about prisoner transportation too the new facility. That meeting was also open to the public and it attracted other law enforcement officials, town representatives and interested residents. Price recalled that the county opened the meeting to the public because officials had invited all members of the Board of Supervisors to attend. FOIA requires meetings be made public if three or more board members attended.

At the June meeting, Vass and Reiley voiced concerns that their towns would lose officers when they leave Shenandoah County to take prisoners to the jail. New Market lies approximately 45 minutes from the regional jail, compared to 23 minutes from downtown Woodstock. Woodstock police will have to travel approximately 30 minutes to take prisoners to the jail.

The working group is discussing, among other aspects of the transportation issue, the pros and cons of maintaining the county jail as a temporary holding facility for prisoners.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com