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Jail faces demolition

February 07, 2003|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

More than two years of debate about what to do with the old Jefferson County Jail came to a head Thursday night when the Jefferson County Commissioners voted 3-2 to tear down the 85-year-old building.

Commission President Jane Tabb along with Commissioners James G. Knode and Al Hooper voted to tear down the jail despite concerns from Commissioners Greg Corliss and Rusty Morgan that the county was moving too quickly on the issue.

Corliss wanted the commission to hold off on the demolition until it hears from a state agency that was formed to review the needs of aging courthouses in the state.

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If saved, Corliss said the jail could play a role in tourism, given the historic nature of Charles Town.

Morgan mentioned the labor movement history associated with the jail, and said the public has been shut out of the decision-making process.

"We need a lot more information to make this important decision," Morgan said.

Tabb said one of the most important duties of a commissioner is to provide adequate work space for county workers "and not to provide a tourist attraction."

There has been a push on the commission since November 2000 to tear down the jail to make room for new court offices.

The discussion between the commissioners was tense at times Thursday night. Corliss and Morgan wanted to table the issue, which was what was done at last week's meeting, but Tabb, Knode and Hooper defeated the effort in a separate vote.

The commission heard from several people in the audience, including Jim Whipple, one of two people who appealed a Jefferson County Circuit Court decision that allowed the demolition of the jail.

Whipple said he had "never seen such a narrow, narrow view of what government is. What happened to 'we the people?'"

A local organization known as Jefferson County Alliance to Save Our Heritage had formed to work on saving the jail, and the organization held rallies to generate support for its effort.

The commissioners did not say when demolition work might begin. Tabb, who made the motion to tear down the jail, said the county would have to go to Circuit Court to request than an injunction temporarily halting the work be lifted.

People who supported saving the jail said it should be preserved because of its architecture and because of a series of trials that were held in Charles Town in 1922 for miners involved in a labor uprising referred to as the Battle of Blair Mountain in southern West Virginia.

Whipple and Carol Gallant appealed a Circuit Court decision allowing the demolition to the Supreme Court of Appeals.

Since the high court made its decision recently, lawyers representing both sides of the case have given different interpretations on how the commission can proceed.

Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney Michael D. Thompson told the commissioners that they can proceed with the demolition by taking another vote on the issue.

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