Ceres jail site controversy continues in board meeting

Published 9:00 pm Monday, January 29, 2018

Economic Development Director Pablo Diaz met with the Warren County Board of Supervisors and the work session Monday was dominated by the hot button topic of the new Warren County jail and the decision by the supervisors to select a site location at the Ceres Industrial Park.

Diaz presented the board a memo, along with emails and letters of discussions he’s had with the Mississippi Development Authority, as well as Entergy and current tenants about the supervisor’s decision to construct the proposed county jail on land at the industrial park.

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The supervisors voted in late November to locate a new jail at the industrial park, located near the lagoon on the northern side of the facility. Since then, Diaz and Vicksburg Mayor George Flaggs Jr. have said MDA thinks placing the county jail at the industrial park would be a bad ideal for economic development. The Vicksburg-Warren Chamber of Commerce and Port Commission have also expressed their concerns with the county jail being placed at the industrial park.

Diaz told the board he reached out to MDA after the supervisors had voted to place the jail at the industrial park and wasn’t aware Ceres was going to be their choice until after the vote took place. The supervisor’s agenda for that week did not include a vote on the jail site.

“I was told it was being considered as one of the options,” Diaz said when asked by Supervisor Charles Selmon why he didn’t advise the supervisors not to choose the industrial park as the jail site location.

Diaz said he was not aware a vote from the supervisors was going to be made.

Supervisor Richard George said he told Diaz personally “there was going to be a distinct possibility that it would be voted on.”

George said it wasn’t until after the vote when he found out “what an egregious event it would be since the park has been there 30 years and we’ve got five businesses and two vacant buildings.”

“Certainly, I would have liked to have talked to y’all before that,” Diaz said.

“It is extremely important to me and to the Port Commission that we support you and do anything that we can to find a resolution. We are here to help.”

Diaz said he met with MDA after the vote and was asked by Supervisor William Banks why no one from the board of supervisors was invited to that meeting.

“I was looking for feedback from MDA at that point and certainly we can go to MDA and I can set that up,” Diaz said.

Selmon said the community is now at odds because it appears Warren County is not working together on locating a county jail site. His concern is that Diaz had not been in contact with the supervisors.

“You could have easily picked up the phone and said ‘this is what I think about that’ and we could have been on the same page,” Selmon said. “I think you’re working against us and not necessarily for us.”

Diaz asked why the board didn’t ask for the data on placing the jail at Ceres before taking a vote.

“Why wasn’t I invited to come and give you that information?” asked Diaz.

George told Diaz that he “made it a point to inform you there may be a vote.”

Supervisor John Carlisle said the only opposition he has received about the jail site choice has been from city officials.

“I have not received one objection from the community,” Carlisle said.

Diaz said he understands the decision on a county jail site lies with the supervisors.

A joint resolution from the supervisors and the Board of Mayor and Alderman must be presented to the state legislature for approval in order for the county jail to be outside the city limits of Vicksburg.

Diaz said not having a united front to solve this issue is harming economic development.

“It is damaging to economic development to have controversies and to have the image we are not working together,” Diaz said. “It doesn’t change the fact that in terms of economic development, this is not a good idea to put a jail at Ceres. We need a united front to solve the issues of our community because economic development depends on that stability.”

Last week, the 12.5-acre Kuhn Memorial Hospital site was one of four recommended by the city’s jail committee as potential jail sites. The other three, which are all in the county, include a 13-acre site on U.S. 80 near Pear Orchard Subdivision, the 49-acre Strong/Pinewood Hotel site and a 165-acre tract on U.S. 61 across from the entrance to LeTourneau Road.

South Ward Alderman Alex Monsour said the city stands by its offer to put more than $3 million toward the county jail rather than build their own holding facility.

“We would be open to putting that towards defraying your cost to help y’all and the county,” Monsour told the board. “We would just ask to utilize the facility. It seems like it would be better for the taxpayers.”

“My suggestion is that you all go ahead and build your facility, whatever you want to build and leave ours alone,” Banks told Monsour.

George said worrying about the cost shouldn’t be a topic since the city and county cannot agree on a site for the jail.

“We never asked for any money, nor expected any money,” George said. “We realize this is our responsibility. I don’t see the need to cloud the issue when we can’t even find a site to agree upon.”

“We’re not trying to tell the county what to do with the jail. We’re just being suggestive and offering some help,” Monsour said.

He said he has received the same information from MDA that Diaz has received.

George said the board has made a decision and based it upon what the county has experienced since the inception of the industrial park and in relation to the location and access to Ceres.

“I don’t know if that has been relayed to all the people who have made comments that we’re just now receiving after I talked to Mr. Diaz early on to inform him so he can be prepared and give him the opportunity to relay to us before we voted of his thoughts and recommendations and we got nothing in response from a man that we pay in partnership with the city and chamber of commerce to more or less protect us from ourselves,” George said. “The bottom line is we still have some work to do to get an answer on our site selection. And what that is going to be remains to be seen.”