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Logic should move county to new course on jail

It is somewhat comforting to know that even though four Citrus Countycommissioners apparently have lost reason over the placement of the new county jail, at least one county staff member still is thinking clearly on the subject.

In a strongly worded memorandum to commissioners this week, County Attorney Larry Haag delineated the consequences of the board's folly in voting to place the detention facility in the middle of downtown Inverness without first finding out whether city officials want it there.

Before the county goes around spending a lot of money on the jail project, Haag wrote, someone had better find out whether the city will go along with the plan.

"If, in fact, the city turns down a proposed comprehensive plan and zoning change for the construction of the building, we would be hard pressed to litigate the issue and still keep within the two-year time frame of having a new detention facility completed," the memo said.

Haag did not even broach the possibility that the county might lose the court fight. In that case, county officials would have to start from scratch, scrambling to find a new location, get a zoning change and build a jail in a matter of months instead of years.

Imagine the cost to the taxpayers for all this mess. And for no good reason.

Haag, however, did have good reason to warn commissioners about city opposition. Within hours after the news that the county had voted for a downtown site, all five Inverness council members said they did not like the idea. One envisioned the look of a concentration camp.

Another characterized it as "Stalag 13."

Now there appears to be a groundswell of opposition from the public.

Residents are beginning to realize what a downtown jail would mean - the hacking down of giant oak trees, the closing of a street, a monstrosity of a $400,000 walkover to connect the new and old jails, razor-wire fences, a building that either must go up seven stories or sprawl all over the place, and no room for expansion.

Most disheartening would be the virtual devastation of a well-established black community that is on the cusp of rejuvenation.

The county attorney is giving the commission sound advice. The problems with a downtown site far overwhelm the dubious and unproved pluses of having stacks of jail cells and bail bonding businesses dominating one side of town. A downtown jail may enrich a couple of downtown property owners and may make Sheriff Charles Dean's life a little more convenient, but it will do little to attract tourists, shoppers, new residents or new businesses to the town.

A photograph of a winter visitor painting the lovely vista of Cooter Pond on page one of the Citrus Times on Tuesday illustrates perfectly the value of keeping this little jewel in its present state.

How many winter visitors would come all the way from Maine, check in at a local hotel and set up an easel on the shores of Cooter Pond to paint a picture of a sprawling jail? How about zero?

Logic and reason should persuade commissioners to change their minds about a downtown jail, but if it doesn't, the city's opposition should.

As commissioners proceed on their present course, all they are doing is painting themselves into a corner.