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New commissioner wants action delayed on old jail

December 02, 2002|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - A newly elected Jefferson County Commissioner who is interested in saving the old Jefferson County Jail from the wrecking ball said he will ask the current commissioners to defer any action on the issue until the new commission takes office.

Commissioner-elect Greg Corliss said he believes the question of whether the jail should be torn down should be left to the commission that will take office at the beginning of the new year since it will have to deal with the issue.

Corliss' comments follow a state Supreme Court of Appeals ruling that said the commission can proceed with its planned demolition of the jail.

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In order to proceed with the demolition, the commission will have to take another vote on the issue, Commissioner James G. Knode said Sunday.

The question is whether there is enough time left in the year for the current commission to vote on it, Knode said.

Typically, action on an issue that has been before the Supreme Court has to be delayed for 30 days, Knode said.

Knode and Commissioner Al Hooper said Sunday they believe the current commission still supports tearing down the jail.

"I'd like to tear it down tomorrow," Commissioner Dean Hockensmith said.

Carol Gallant and Jim Whipple, as well as other residents, say the jail at the corner of Liberty and George streets should be saved because it has historical significance, namely a treason trial held there for a United Mine Workers official in 1922.

Gallant and Whipple also believe the jail should be saved because it is on the National Register of Historic Places and because tearing it down and replacing it with modern court offices - which the current commission proposes - would not be fitting with a downtown revitalization plan that Charles Town is proposing.

Jefferson County Circuit Judge Thomas W. Steptoe Jr. originally halted the demolition of the jail until the state Division of Culture and History could review the project.

Steptoe then ruled the commission could tear down the jail because a bill recently passed in the Legislature freed county governments from a requirement to conduct such historical reviews.

Gallant and Whipple appealed that decision to the Supreme Court of Appeals.

There continues to be debate about whether the commission has to allow a Division of Culture and History review of the demolition proposal. Knode said he has been told that the commissioners are not required to have the review conducted.

Gallant said the issue is not clear.

While Corliss would not say whether he would vote to save the jail, he said all the issues regarding the jail need to be laid out on the table again for review. And the public needs to be involved in the process, Corliss said.

"We need more public participation in the decision process. It is a historical structure, in my mind," Corliss said.

Gallant called Corliss' statement an "appropriate response. They are about to set an important precedent for the future of Jefferson County," she said.

Corliss and Commissioner-elect Rusty Morgan will take their seats on the commission at the beginning of January. They will join Knode, Hooper and Jane Tabb.

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