Originally created 04/07/01

Panel votes on jail control issue



AIKEN - Aiken County Sheriff Howard Sellers' bid to take control of the local jail hit one snag this week, and more could be piling up on a desk at the county administration building.

A citizens advisory board that monitors detention center issues and operations voted to urge Aiken County Council not to relinquish control to the sheriff. About 75 percent of the survey forms sent to jail employees from the advisory board trickled back by mail, acting County Administrator Joan Wilson said. But she said she has not tallied any of the employees' returns.

The sheriff concedes that workers might have job security on their minds, and it could be a valid concern.

"The complete picture of how the jail employees feel about this has not been told, and I think it's natural to be concerned about what might change," Sheriff Sellers said. "The devil you know is better than the devil you don't, and I happen to be the devil you don't."

Ms. Wilson declined Friday to say whether incomplete survey results are bearing out that assessment.

"I haven't tallied them up yet," she said. "I can tell you the responses are all over the map, but I won't say any more than that until I've given the results to council."

The survey and the advisory board's opinion are just two factors the council could weigh in deciding on whether to let Sheriff Sellers take control of the jail, now or when the $14.8 million facility opens in the fall.

The advisory panel was almost unanimously opposed "for the time being," member Mike Bailey said this week.

One member did not vote.

"We're not necessarily against the sheriff doing it, but we feel the timing is wrong," board member Jerry Ashcroft said Friday.

Present management was in on the design and other issues involved in the jail's construction and should have a chance to see how well they run the bigger, more modern facility, he said.

"We were agreed on that."

The advisory board wants an independent expert to evaluate current management and compare it to the sheriff's plan or any other plan submitted. That evaluation should include cost projections, Mr. Bailey said.

The board suggested it could take two years at full tilt to determine a baseline cost to operate the new jail, and only then should a change be considered.

Sheriff Sellers says cost is a moot question because county council sets the bottom line when it votes on a budget.

Reach Margaret N. O'Shea at (803) 279-6895.