BY KRISTEN BUCKLES
The future of the Greene County Detention Center could involve 25 to 30 acres and at least two courtrooms for the formation of a brand-new justice center.
After several meetings exploring the possibility of a downtown expansion, the Courthouse/Workhouse Committee turned back once again Thursday to the idea of a green site.
The Greene County Commission voted 14-7 in September against building a new detention center on a green site -- the Hartman property on Hal Henard Road being the key location under consideration at the time.
Much confusion surrounded that vote and what it meant. Some commissioners weren't sure if it meant approval to purchase that property, support for the abstract idea of building on a green site, or general approval of building a jail.
The motion failed, and the committee has since then turned its attention back to the downtown site, proposing an expansion of the current facility on East Depot Street.
This would have also provided construction savings in that the county would be able to utilize the current courthouse rather than build a full justice center with courtrooms on a green site.
Recent objections to a major downtown expansion from the Town of Greeneville government and representatives of downtown churches prompted the committee on Thursday to speak against trying to make the downtown site work.
"I don't think we can build a jail for the convenience of the lawyers and the people who own buildings downtown," Commissioner Robert Bird said. "It's got to be for the convenience of Greene County."
'A HUGE MISTAKE'
He went on later to say that building downtown would be a huge mistake.
"If you build it down there, it would be out of date before you got finished," Bird said.
"[Deputies recently] arrested 15 people out of one house. They're putting them some place, unless Steve [Burns] is letting them out the back door as they come in the front," Bird added, jokingly.
"I don't think he would," Commissioner John Carter said, laughing. "[Judge Kenneth] Bailey said he wasn't letting them go, but he was letting a lot of people go that didn't need to be let go."
"Then when somebody gets killed by one of them, there will be all kinds of [ruckus] raised. The pressure will be put on everybody that made a decision on it then," Bird responded.
The discussion then turned to the number of thefts in certain areas of the county and what members indicated is the need for action in finding a green site for a new center.
JUDGE BAILEY RESPONDS
In reference to Carter's statement, Bailey told The Greeneville Sun on Friday that he is not avoiding sentencing people to jail time because of overcrowding.
"When people are found guilty or plead guilty for any crime, I sentence them to jail time," Bailey said.
"I am not allowing people to be released due to the overcrowding at the jail, and I do not believe Sheriff Burns is.
"I have had some county commissioners say to me that I should consider that in sentencing -- that the jail was overcrowded," Bailey said.
"I can't start releasing people because the jail is overcrowded. I feel like I have to follow the law."
Bailey said both the court system and probation officers are trying to think "outside the box" by sending drug offenders both to rehabilitation programs and the Drug Court program when appropriate.
Several jail committee members have said that expanding from the downtown site also has distinct disadvantages that, prior to the September commission meeting, had already pushed the committee away from such a proposal:
* the courthouse is reportedly undersized for the county's needs;
* there is little-to-no buffer zone around the jail from businesses and public areas; and,
* the cost to staff a multi-level facility would, over the long-term, possibly cost the county far more in labor and benefits than the construction savings realized by expanding rather than building new.
Sheriff Steve Burns, who came in near the end of the meeting, said that personnel comprises 75 percent of the jail's budget.
Discussion indicated that the committee members also supported the green-site option based on the issue of future expansion opportunities -- a one-level building on a 25-30 acre site could easily be expanded, they said.
With these thoughts in mind, the committee began naming those larger green sites within the city limits that might be available for purchase.
State law requires the site to be within the city limits if there are courtrooms on the site.
The committee agreed that the site should contain at least two courtrooms to avoid the expense and safety hazards of transporting prisoners between a separate jail and courthouse.
Commissioner Fred Malone, who chairs the committee, reported that he spoke with Sonny Marsh concerning 15.5 acres on the Baileyton Road that contains the old Franklin Furniture Co. warehouse.
"He said if we could use it, he'd listen to an offer," Malone reported.
The committee expressed considerable interest in this property, but questioned if other acreage might be available surrounding it.
The committee adjourned without making any formal decisions, setting the next meeting date for Jan. 30.