Supervisors argue over Sheriff’s Office project

WOODSTOCK – A Shenandoah County supervisor sparked a heated argument with other members Tuesday over the proposed new Sheriff’s Office headquarters.

District 4 Supervisor Cindy Bailey claimed at the end of the Board of Supervisors meeting that Chairman Conrad Helsley talked with architects about finding a new home for the county Emergency Communications Center without other members present.

Supervisors heard a presentation Oct. 20 from representatives of Grimm and Parker Associates on the proposed new headquarters for the Sheriff’s Office. The firm hired by the county presented updated design possibilities and cost estimates for the project.

Helsley brought up the notion of putting the communications center in the new Sheriff’s Office complex, Bailey recalled. He also suggested conducting a feasibility study for building a standalone facility for the department, Bailey added. A standalone building could cost $1.2 million-$1.5 million, she said.

“The fact that you’re discussing it, Mr. Chairman, is one thing, that you’re discussing it with whomever other than board members,” Bailey said. “But to ask for a feasibility study without discussing it with the board members in public, you know, behind closed doors or in public, I don’t think you should be doing that without the board’s knowledge.”

Helsley refuted Bailey’s claims.

“Well, I’d like to speak to the issue because Supervisor Bailey has fabricated in her mind what she thinks, which is totally wrong,” Helsley said. “She wants to come in public and say what I have done and the feasibility study. At no time did I ask for any feasibility study and as Mr. Walker iterated here when I saw it I thought, gosh, I didn’t know about that.”

Bailey said she learned later that the cost of such a feasibility study could be “free” or absorbed into the price for the study conducted for the Sheriff’s Office. Bailey then told Helsley he needed to keep members apprised of discussions regarding the project and reiterated her claim that the chairman’s suggestion to use a combination of a loan and asset forfeiture funds to pay for the project serves only to stall progress on the proposal. Bailey said Helsley doesn’t want to see the asset forfeiture funds disappear because he wants to use the money to pay for items the county should cover.

The county needs to wean itself off asset forfeiture and use the available funds to build the Sheriff’s Complex, Bailey said.

District 1 Supervisor John R. “Dick” Neese said he spoke to the Grimm and Parker representative who offered to provide cost estimates for both a standalone building and add-on to the Sheriff’s Office for the emergency communications center.

Vice Chairman Richard Walker said he and Helsley talked earlier to try and determine how the idea of a separate facility for the center arose. Walker deferred to Assistant County Administrator Evan Vass as Bailey asked for information in writing.

“I assure you there is no deceit intended,” Vass said. “Let’s all remember that the Sheriff’s Office (plan) is at this stage … a conceptual design.”

Bailey interrupted Vass, saying “It’s not just about the Sheriff’s Office. It’s about Mr. Helsley’s agenda and not working as a board here, at least knowing the information he had before he went into that meeting Thursday.”

Vass responded, saying “He didn’t have the information. You have to blame me for not using all of my brain power.” Bailey continued to talk over Vass with Helsley asking her to let the administrator speak.

Vass said he didn’t know what he needed to obtain “in writing” as Bailey requested. Vass recalled that Helsley asked after the first meeting with the architects in the summer about the concept of adding any other public safety functions to the Sheriff’s Office complex. Any other board member could have asked a similar question, Vass said.

“There have not been any in-depth studies of co-locating the (emergency communications center); it is at its basic, conceptual level,” Vass said. “Had Dr. Helsley brought this up at last Thursday’s work session and you had roundly agreed and said this is a great idea, I think it would be beneficial to have at least a conceptual idea what something like that might cost.

“I’ve certainly not heard anyone say that’s an idea we want to pursue at this time so there’s not been any funds spent in the study,” Vass added. “It is rudimentary at best to say it could cost something like this.”

Shruntz said she was “dumbfounded” when she heard about the idea of putting the emergency communications center in the Sheriff’s Office complex. Vass said he would have asked the architects about incorporating the concept had any board member broached the idea with him.

Vass apologized if any board member felt he or she was caught off guard, especially by the mention of the center as a standalone facility.

Helsley went on to say that brought up the idea of finding a new home for the center because the equipment faces its end-of-life in a few years. The chairman said he looked at putting the center in the Sheriff’s Office facility for security and compatibility. Helsley reiterated that he didn’t ask for a feasibility study on the conceptual idea.

“Well, I need to hear it from Grimm and Parker,” Bailey said, remarking that the architects revised the report days before the board meeting.

“Well then why didn’t you call them and ask them?” Helsley said. “Why come in here and lie about me rather than go and ask them where did it come from and why are those dates there because what you came in here and said about me is not correct.”

“Because I still believe that you had something to do with it,” Bailey replied.

“But you’re always going to believe that, but it’s a lie,” Helsley said. “It’s not true.”

District 2 Supervisor Steve Baker commented on the argument between the members.

“It’s just tearing this county apart,” Baker said. “I made comment before: we’ve lost good employees; we’ll probably lose more because of this constant bickering and it’s very, very unfortunate.”

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