Jackson County jail controversy just won't go away

JACKSON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - Ocean Springs attorney Andy Alphonso considers himself a watchdog of the tax payers' money. He even filed a public records request for documents involving a new county jail.

Those documents show the engineering firm of Pryor and Morrow has been paid well over a million dollars since 2003, when the firm was first hired by the county to design a new jail. He wants the county to put the brakes on the project and start over.

"I would like them to go on and make a stand. Stop the bleeding, so to speak," Alphonso said. "We've spent $1.3 million on a set of plans that don't exist. The bleeding will continue if they don't make a decision soon to turn this around."

Some supervisors seem to agree.  Troy Ross is one of them.

"I regret the fact that the county has spent that much money re-working and re-designing a jail," Ross said. "I would much rather that go into bricks and mortar."

"There's no doubt that if you look at the beginning from where they started in 2003 and where we are now, you can say there's substantial waste in that process," Supervisor Melton Harris said.

Roger Pryor, one of the partners in the firm, disagrees. He said the firm has submitted plans, schematic drawings, and specs for bids on a new jail. He also feels the jail issue won't go away because of the nature of the project.

"No one wants to build a jail. They are controversial. But they are a component of modern life," Pryor said.

Of the five supervisors who were on the board back in 2003 when the original contract was signed, only one remains. And John McKay steadfastly maintains the county has gotten its money's worth.

"Well, I would disagree with the term wasted, simply because this has been a 12 year process. Neither one was on the board when this process actually started back three terms ago," McKay said.

As for starting the process over, he offered this advice.

"We can't just throw away everything that we've done. Then we really have wasted that potentially million dollars that we have spent to this point."

Roger Pryor said that bids for site work on the new jail should go out in the next few weeks.

Meanwhile, Alphonso said he has contacted the state auditor's office about the jail situation.  We talked with an official with the auditor's office who told us they are aware of the controversy, but would neither confirm nor deny if any investigation is underway.

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