Originally created 09/25/98

Grand jury approves county officials' work



Efforts of county officials were commended by grand jury reports released this week, despite cramped offices and aging facilities.

Committees from the spring 1998 term of the Columbia County grand jury inspected the Probate Court offices and the Columbia County Detention Center this summer.

Jurors were impressed by how well sheriff's authorities ran the county jail, overcoming persistent overcrowding problems and design flaws.

"It is gratifying to receive an acknowledgment of excellence from the grand jury," sheriff's Capt. Steve Morris said.

The committee did recommend that dispensing medication to prisoners be handled by a private company to reduce the county's liability.

A plan to do that is already under study, Capt. Morris said.

In Probate Court, committee members found no deficiencies in record keeping, or other duties, but again the building itself had problems.

Grand jury members noted an absence of smoke detectors and other fire protection devices in the small office space, adjacent to the aging Appling Courthouse.

No emergency lighting system was available in parts of the office -- particularly the vault -- in case of a power outrage, the report said.

Ventilation in the office was a problem, as well.

Jurors reported the court's archival materials -- records dating back to the early 19th century -- had been subjected to high temperatures and humidity in the vault for a long time.

The lack of climate control was causing the documents to deteriorate at a higher rate than normal.

Jurors recommended better monitoring of vault temperatures and humidity.

They also said people using archival records should be provided cotton gloves to wear to prevent further damage and deterioration from use.

Officials say all these problems will be corrected when the Evans courthouse annex is completed in three years.

Until that time, officials may have to implement temporary measures to correct the most pressing problems.

A message left at the home of Probate Judge Pat Hardaway was not returned Thursday evening.