Mt Pleasant News
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Wash Journal   Fairfield Ledger
Neighbors Growing Together | Aug 20, 2017

County voters emphatically say ‘yes’

Law enforcement referendum receives 84.7-percent approval
Aug 02, 2017
Photo by: Brooks Taylor Mike Hampton, co-chair of the Citizens Organized for Public Safety, reacts after the vote total was announced on the referendum to build a new county law enforcement center/jail. To Hampton’s left is Gary See, Henry County supervisor.

By Brooks Taylor, Mt. Pleasant News

 

At 8:05 p.m. Tuesday, Henry County Sheriff Rich McNamee admitted he “was nervous as heck” as he and members of the Citizens Organized for Public Safety (COPS) Committee awaited results of the vote on approving a $9.1M bond referendum to finance a new county law enforcement center and jail.

McNamee’s nervousness abated about 10 minutes later when Henry County Auditor Shelly Barber walked into the conference room where supporters of the referendum were gathered and announced the measure passed by an 84.7 affirmative vote. The referendum needed a 60-percent “yes” vote for passage.

The final score card read 2,592 voting for the project and 465 opposing it. Turnout was 22.3 percent which Barber termed rather high for a special election. Nearly 1,200 (actually 1,180) absentee votes were cast with 1,046 of that number casting “yes” votes.

For Mike Hampton, co-chair of the COPS Committee and chair of the jail planning committee, it was sweet revenge because he was co-chair of a similar committee a decade ago when the referendum failed by a narrow margin.

“You set the tempo, we followed,” Hampton said, pointing to McNamee. “We were at your back. This is wonderful for the citizens of Henry County. I want to thank everybody. You all did a super job. We did not use one cent of taxpayer money.”

Tears welled up in McNamee’s eyes as he addressed project supporters. “I’m stunned. When I took over (as sheriff nearly five years ago), I knew we had a big issue and I also knew that a bond issue for a new jail failed twice. Each and every one of you contributed. I couldn’t ask for anymore.

“The staff has been amazing,” he continued. “It has been a long couple of months. I thank you a lot. This is huge, and I thank God.”

What the vote means is the county can continue with plans to build a 44-bed jail and new sheriff’s office on county-owned land by the Christamore House (or another site if an appropriate one is found). The current eight-bed county jail was built 40 years ago and a dramatic increase in inmates has forced the county to board its prisoners at other county jails, costing the county nearly $2 million since Jan. 1, 2000.

McNamee said it is exciting times for law enforcement in the county and did not hesitate to pass the thanks around. “I would like to thank the Henry County Board of Supervisors, members of the COPS Committee, the media, all the staff past and present at the sheriff’s office and obviously, my wife and kids. All of your sacrifices have been immense per the time of this project. I would also like to thank the citizens of Henry County who did vote to support the proposed Henry County Law Center.”

The referendum received strong support in all nine of the county precincts. Following are the vote totals in each precinct (yes votes are followed by no votes):

Central — 181-66; Mt. Pleasant Ward I — 138-18; Mt. Pleasant Ward II — 143-36; Mt. Pleasant Ward III — 140-28; Northeast — 152-32; Northwest — 195-23; Southeast — 306-68; Southwest — 168-43.

Kay Denning, co-chair of the COPS Committee thanked everyone for their dedication. “Everything helped, no matter how big or small. I am thrilled. Nobody can say it was almost defeated.”

Gary See, the only Henry County supervisor present, likewise thanked the committee and supporter for their work. “Apparently we did a good job of addressing the public need which was a priority.”

McNamee said the next step in the process is meeting with Prochaska & Associates, the architect for the project, to begin the design process. He said ground would not be broken until next spring for the new law enforcement center. The sheriff also pledged to keep the public informed about the new law enforcement center. “We will continue to have open and transparent communications throughout the design and construction process.”

“Now the work really begins,” sized-up Hampton. “The voters came through because of you (McNamee). Thank you a million.”

 

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