Originally created 02/14/01

Jail job security pledged



AIKEN - Aiken County Sheriff Howard Sellers says he has no plans to fire the detention center staff if the county council agrees to give him control of the jail.

"I do hear some rumblings and a little bit of hysteria out there. But let me point out: I am not proposing a house cleaning," Sheriff Sellers said Tuesday night, speaking to the council's Judicial and Public Safety Committee and outlining reasons for his proposed changeover.

"I have no intention of doing away with the vast body of corporate knowledge and ability that exists over there (at the jail). I believe it needs to be run on a more accountable basis, and I think every employee deserves the opportunity to succeed in their job."

Outlining his proposal, the sheriff said he would continue using inmates as labor for county projects.

For local law enforcement agencies, jail personnel could provide transportation for all arrests in the county. For example, North Augusta public safety officers transport about 450 inmates to the Aiken jail each year. A new transportation system run by the sheriff could save North Augusta that expense and allow their officers to continue patrolling, Sheriff Sellers said.

Former Sheriff Carroll Heath gave up control of the jail in 1985 when he took over the office, saying he wanted the agency's full resources devoted to law-enforcement activities. Aiken County Council agreed to take over control.

But Sheriff Sellers, elected to a third term in November, said the jail should be run by an elected official rather than bureaucrats.

The new $14.8 million jail on Wire Road is set to open in late August or early September. Sheriff Sellers wants to take over control of the old jail July 1, the day the new county budget takes effect.

"I think it would be easier for us to get on top of the old jail and then make the transition than to jump right into the new jail at that time," Sheriff Sellers said.

Sheriff Sellers will have his work cut out for him in the coming weeks. Council members Phil Napier and Joel Randall asked Tuesday for specifics on what positions he might combine between both agencies and an analysis of potential expenses.

"The bottom line is the security and savings to the taxpayers," Mr. Napier said. "I feel like he can run it, but Aiken County has run it effectively for 16 years."

Mr. Randall also asked interim county administrator Joan Wilson to research the added costs of the 1985 changeover from sheriff to the county council.

The council made no mention of where the sheriff's proposal is headed next, but Sheriff Sellers said his agency will likely have to ask for an ordinance so the issue can be debated publicly by the full council.

Reach Greg Rickabaugh at (803) 279-6895.