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Brown appoints committee on disposition of old jail

Fayette County Commission Chairman Steve Brown has empaneled a citizen commission to investigate whether the county should resuscitate its old jail facility or plan to expand the current jail facility.

The old jail has been mothballed since the county’s justice center opened in 2003 and it likely needs several hundred thousand dollars in repairs to be usable again.

In addition to the citizens on the committee, Brown said he has also asked Sheriff Barry Babb, who operates the jail, to participate as well either directly or through a designee.

Brown said a discussion he recently had with Babb motivated him about the issue over worries that state legislation passed last year will lead to a spike in misdemeanor cases which could translate to an increase in the county jail population. Changes to various laws increased the threshold for certain crimes such as theft and burglary, potentially increasing the number of defendants who will be charged with a misdemeanor instead of a felony.

Those convicted on felony charges are, eventually, housed in the state prison system and not in the county jail. Those convicted of misdemeanors typically serve their entire sentence in the county jail.

“The sheriff made it very clear he was very worried about this,” Brown said.

This is the first committee appointed by Brown since taking the chairmanship Jan. 2. Although Brown got permission from his fellow commissioners to make the appointment, he did not advertise the volunteer opportunity.

Brown last year would often criticize his former fellow commissioners for selecting volunteers to various boards and commissions without advertising the openings. The difference here, Brown said, is that the committee has a short time frame and a very specific objective: to study what to do with the old jail facility.

Brown said he and his fellow commissioners remain firmly committed to publicly advertising openings on the standing, long-term commissions, boards and authorities including the recreation commission, planning commission and the like.

In the case of the jail committee, however “they have one little thing to look at with the jail and then it dissolves,” Brown said, estimating it will take about three meetings or so to accomplish that goal.

Brown said he is pleased with the variety of citizens who will participate as they come from a variety of professional fields including criminal justice, education, technology, real estate and government facility construction and operations.

“It’s a really well-rounded group on that committee,” Brown said.

In addition to Babb and Brown, other committee members include local businessmen Tommy Turner and Scott Bradshaw, former Peachtree City manager Bernie McMullen, former water committee chairman Chuck Watkins, retired lawyer and actuary Claude Paquin, photographer Bob Ross, and citizens Bess Stevens and Nova Brown.

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