McDonald’s ouster muddies jail issue

Published 11:43 am Tuesday, August 30, 2011

With the certainty that Warren County’s District 1 will have a new representative on the Board of Supervisors, predicting when and if the county will have a modernized jail with extra space for criminal cases becomes a bit tougher.

Incumbent David McDonald lost his bid for a fourth term when he lost Tuesday’s Republican primary runoff to John Arnold, who now faces independents Jerry Briggs and Reed Birdsong in the Nov. 8 general election.

McDonald has publicly for years favored building inside the county-owned “spec building” at Ceres Research and Industrial Interplex to save the cost of purchasing land.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

The 64,000-square-foot building has been idle since its construction in 1995.

McDonald was alone among county board colleagues in publicly favoring a specific site. The balance of the board has been content to wait out a process that, at the moment, has county engineers vetting nine tracts of land in the city and county. One 18-acre tract off Manor Drive and Bazinsky Road, smallest of the nine, is owned by Arnold. 

Arnold said Monday it’s up to the engineers to decide whether his tract is considered or not. He’s staying away from specific issues in the general campaign, but maintains an anti-tax stance when asked about building a jail.

“I’m not for raising taxes to build a new jail,” Arnold said.

A 2010 study by Colorado-based Voorhis/Robertson Justice Services said an ideal jail would house 350 to 650 beds on 20 to 50 acres. Earlier this year, the county estimated property taxes could jump 3 to 6 mills if a jail is built strictly to those standards. 

Briggs, who heads the Culkin Volunteer Fire Department, and Birdsong, the county’s building permit officer, don’t plan to champion one site over another during the campaign, but both have said some type of new or extra jail space is necessary.

“Definitely, we need one — without a doubt,” Briggs said, favoring an “all-in-one facility” with courtrooms, classrooms for sheriff’s deputies to earn professional certification and a shooting range be added to a new facility. 

Birdsong didn’t discount Ceres nor a renovation of the current jail’s third floor — an option the current board has said would be too expensive to design to meet Department of Justice standards and wouldn’t fit modern-day preferences on cell layout.

“Maybe we could put this to a countywide vote,” he said, implying if that ever happens, the results should be binding.

In the short term, McDonald said his days will be spent getting two new homes ready to rent out, one of which belonged to his late father.

He also has headed up a committee of judges, supervisors, elected officials and others to study ways to speed up the justice system from arrest to sentencing.  

“I don’t know what will happen to it,” McDonald said of the committee, set up in 2010 at the suggestion of the consulting firm.

Though supervisors don’t appoint its members, McDonald said he would be willing to continue his role if the board wants.

“I wouldn’t mind volunteering on the committee,” he said.

More than a year’s worth of meetings focused on jail capacity figures and extra positions, such as a population manager and a four-person public defender staff to ease indigent defense costs on the county budget. None has moved past the suggestion phase. A $700 cap set on how much attorneys could charge to defend indigent clients has decreased the hit the county has taken in such cases since 2009, which has ramped down talk of having the staff instead of the current rotation of 30 to 40 attorneys.