2011-03-10 / Letters

Jail Petition Only Clear Way To Make Feelings Known

To The Editor,

The town meeting with the Fulton County commissioners last Thursday night was a ripsnorter. Partly because this is the year when all three commissioners will be elected for fouryear terms (and the May 17 primary is coming right up) and partly because of the construction project under way around the Fulton County Courthouse area in McConnellsburg, the Thompson Township meetinghouse was packed to the gills, standing-room only. The commissioners are to be commended for holding this series of meetings with the public.

A few years back, the commissioners announced the building project now under way, and included the plan to tear down the county jail, which is no longer a jail but has been an office building and holding cell for the sheriff and the prisoners brought in for trial. Some friends of mine felt passionate about saving the jail and asked me to write up a petition, which I did, asking the commissioners to save the jail.

At one of the early town meetings in Big Cove Tannery Lutheran Church, years back, I came early with blank copies of the petition, before anyone had signed any one of them, and showed them to the three commissioners and pointed out that it was designed to be nonconfrontational, merely to give people who wanted to save the jail a clear way to express themselves. Everyone seemed to agree that this was an OK way to go, and as my friends began to circulate the petition, as people were signing them all over the county, the commissioners agreed to preserve the jail. So, the petitions were not given to the commissioners. No telling how many had signed them, but ... end of story, right?

No! The commissioners decided more recently that the old jail building had to be torn down after all, and the roof got torn off and replaced with a temporary cover, which blew off, letting in the rain and snow. That was after the bridge had been erected between the old jail and the courthouse.

At the meeting, some felt that a professional project manager should be doing full-time oversight. Others were clearly outraged that the jail building had been further neglected and damaged. Some pointed to the $580,000 total cost given for erecting a new building, stating their opinion that the old building could be renovated for much less.

So now the story goes on. The petition has been updated and is under circulation. It was read aloud at the meeting. Here’s what is says:

“The Fulton County commissioners plan to tear down the old jail in McConnellsburg because it needs maintenance. The jail house was constructed at the same time as the courthouse, and cost about half as much to build as the courthouse itself. Many of the materials, including handmade bricks, are similar. Both buildings are of the Civil War era. No one would consider tearing down the courthouse, and the old jail is just as historic.

Many of us feel that this building should not be torn down at the sole direction of the current Fulton County commissioners. The building belongs to all the people of Fulton County ... past, present and future. Heritage, once destroyed, cannot be replaced. As John Ruskin once said:

‘Old buildings are not our alone. They belong, partly to those who built them, and partly to the generations of mankind who are to follow us. The dead still have their right to them; that which they labored for ... we have no right to obliterate. When we ourselves have built, we are at liberty to throw down. But what others gave of their strength, and wealth and life, to accomplish, their right over it does not pass away with their death.’

If you agree that the right to decide the fate of this historic building belongs to all the people, not only the commissioners, please add your signature, your name in print, and your zip below ... and thank you for helping preserve the heritage that has been left to us.’’

That’s the end of the petitions text. Now back to the meeting last Thursday:

At the end of the meeting, the commissioners were urged to find out if the voters could have a referendum on whether to tear down, or not tear down, the old jail and, to get the big holes in the roof covered until the issue was resolved. They agreed to work on both. I drove by the jail the other day and saw that tar paper had covered the holes on the roof to keep out the rain.

I think I know the answer to the other question because I asked it a couple of years back. I learned then that the county isn’t allowed to put initiatives like that on a primary ballot, so the voters aren’t likely to have that question put to them. Therefore, the petition is the only clear way the people of Fulton County have to make their feelings known on the matter.

It is not my purpose here to urge people to sign, or not to sign, the petition. But, if you do want to sign, ask around and probably you can find out where to get hold of one of the copies now being circulated. It is good to see people taking an interest in their government. It’s a sign of a healthy democracy. I have to say that to all appearances the commissioners are working together well.

It used to be hard to get a good turnout for one of these town meetings, but not any more! The commissioners are to be commended for planning more of them; the next one will be at the Green Hill Sewing Club building on April 7 at 7 p.m. I’m betting that if you want a seat at that meeting you had better come early!

Jack Hendricks


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