County Jail Fence

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 2, 2010

County has plan to offset cost of new fence at jail

By Billy Davis

Panola County government, aware of tough economic times, is acting responsibly with taxpayers’ money, Supervisor Gary Thompson, responding to criticism about spending on jail security, said Monday.

“We’ve got a county board that’s as conservative as it’s ever been,” said Thompson, who serves as board president.  

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Thompson was responding to a meeting attendee, Bob Bryant, who had seized on a comment from Sheriff Otis Griffin.

Bryant, a political activist from Crenshaw, had raised the issue of jail security when the meeting wound down without mention of purchasing a new fence at the sheriff’s department and jail.   

Griffin and supervisors have been discussing the need for new fencing after a pair of state inmates, both trustees, escaped December 13 from an unsecured building.

Griffin, after getting two bids, has said it would cost $23,637 to encircle much of the jail property and the State-County Work Program building.  

Supervisors turned down Griffin’s original request for 1,600 feet of fencing, agreeing instead only to allow for fencing that encircles the single building. The cost of encircling only the building has not been stated.

Bringing the topic up to date, Thompson explained Monday that Griffin plans to auction surplus vehicles and use those funds to purchase the fence, which would negate the need for an amended budget.

The sheriff’s department also plans to give two automobiles to other county departments, which would save taxpayers’ money over time, Griffin added.

The interim sheriff then defended the new fence and other expenses, at one point declaring that God expects Griffin and other public leaders to protect Panola County from criminals.

“It’s all about security and protection,” Griffin said. “What is twenty-three thousand dollars? How can that even be an issue?”

“‘What is twenty-three thousand dollars?’ That’s part of the problem,” Bryant replied. “The attitude is that y’all don’t give a hoot and a holler.”

Bryant then described other Panolians who are halving their medications, turning off their heat, and skipping meals in order to manage their finances. He singled out the spike in property taxes as the main concern of many.

“I can tell you the taxpayers are not interested in funding a bottomless pit,” Bryant told the sheriff and board.

“We talk at least weekly about the county finances,” Thompson, growing testy, responded. “We try to cut corners as much as we can.”