Originally created 09/22/04

Sheriff to have jail oversight



AIKEN - The Aiken County Council is sticking with its decision to give control of its detention center to Sheriff Mike Hunt, but the move won't necessarily solve problems that have burdened the facility.

Council members voted unanimously Tuesday to enter into a contract with Sheriff Hunt to operate the detention center.

The council must ratify its decision with another vote next month, and details of the contract have yet to be ironed out. That left some wondering what transferring control from County Administrator Clay Killian's office to Sheriff Hunt would accomplish.

"The detention center is being operated properly, safely and securely," said Mark Gibson, a member of the Citizens Advisory Board for the detention center. "Why fix it if it ain't broke?"

Councilman Willar Hightower disagreed, saying his "phone has been hot the last few years with calls" complaining about poor communication and mismanagement at the detention center.

Mr. Gibson also pointed out that an independent audit of the jail made public last week said it was running smoothly, and he scolded council members for not asking the advisory board for its opinion.

He then quit his position, based on the council's decision to change leadership. Before resigning, however, he highlighted potential conflicts of interest that could occur with the sheriff in charge, such as arbitrary arrests or a lack of arrests if overcrowding occurred.

There were also concerns that the jail would be a distraction for the sheriff.

Sheriff Hunt stood before audience members to answer the allegations and assure listeners none of those concerns would come to fruition.

"It will not take away from" the department's other duties, Mr. Hunt said.

Reach Josh Gelinas at (803) 648-1395, ext. 113, or josh.gelinas@augustachronicle.com.