After evacuating the Sheriff’s Operations Center last June, personnel stopped using the building to store new evidence. That evidence started getting stored at the old jail’s administrative wing, which is not designed for the purpose: the smell of pot now permeates the building. Storage capacity is also limited. For months, county and sheriff’s officials have been working on a solution: new storage space, some of which could be converted to other uses once the county finds a permanent resolution of the Operations Center fiasco.
Monday evening the county’s facilities director presented three storage options to the County Commission, each of which would cost between $219,000 and $267,000 and that would have to be paid out of the county’s reserves. It was the first time commissioners were hearing of the proposal.
They rejected it.
“We’re having a terrible time moving forward on the bigger problem on what we’re going to do,” Commissioner Dave Sullivan, who moved to table the proposal, said. Taking money and “doing a band-aid approach to the problem is not the way to go.”
Sullivan said he doesn’t dispute the sheriff’s need for storage space. But he wants that component to be part of a larger solution to the Operations Center’s future.
That future was in limbo even before County Administrator Craig Coffey was forced to resign last month. It’s even more so since Coffey’s departure. There’s been no movement, no commission-level discussion on what steps to take next, though it’s the county government’s responsibility to ensure proper accommodations for all of the sheriff’s operations.
The county has instead been taking improvised arrangements for granted. Those arrangements consist of the sheriff’s administrative operations being split between the agency’s old administration building on Justice Lane, near the new jail, and offices at the county courthouse, which had lately been causing some friction with clerk of court staff–particularly after the sheriff’s office sought to have a little more room there as part of a longer-term interim solution.
That interim solution may stretch over a year and a half to two years whatever may be the future of the current Operations Center, whether major reconstruction is required at the building itself or whether the county will have to find a new location and build a new structure.
Sullivan and the rest of the commission agreed to table the storage proposal Monday but did not provide a new direction to break the inertia. Some of that may happen Thursday, when the commission scheduled a special meeting on the Operations Center.
Because of that meeting, the sheriff’s Chief Mark Strobridge, who was at the commission meeting Monday evening, said he was not worried about Monday’s vote. He went so far as to say he understood it: the commission was seeing the dollar figures for the first time and had not had time to digest those.
“If they’re being hit with those numbers for the very first time, they need more information,” Strobridge said. “Our greatest concern is that we just keep moving. Originally this was initially pulled form the agenda then put back on.” His understanding was that the item had been pulled off for discussion Thursday. But the county administration’s various departments have not been acting in concert and Monday’s result may be more a reflection of administrative chaos, or at least a lack of studied coordination, than any intentional misstep.
Sullivan wasn’t bothered only by the band-aid approach, but by Facilities Director Heidi Petito’s suggestion, quickly revised, that the proposal to move evidence into a storage space of its own had been submitted to commissioners and discussed by them before. It had not.
“I do not remember ever at any meeting requesting this evidence relocation,” Sullivan said. “I just think it’s kind of new to me that we’re going to do this. The last two meetings I made a big case to keep the commissioners involved on what’s going on.” But this was the first item that touched on anything related to the Sheriff’s Operations Center since. He said he wants a more comprehensive analysis of the situation “before we make piecemeal decisions on spending money.”
Petito said the proposal is the result of “months and months of talks” between the county and sheriff’s officials, Petito said. “It was more of a working group.”
The three proposals entail either building new structures near the old jail administration or installing portable buildings, or a combination of the two. Building new structures would be the most cost-effective approach in the long run even if it isn’t the cheapest one at present, Petito said, because the space could then be converted to other sheriff’s uses, whether for training or classrooms. The money would have to be pulled out of reserves.
“The solution we came up with is a good solution, it is critical,” Strobridge said. “We don’t have any more room to store the evidence.”