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Residents near proposed jail site hire lawyer

Residents of the neighborhood where the county wants to build a new jail have enlisted a prominent lawyer to help them in their fight. Richard "Spike" Fitzpatrick, who also represents the county School Board, said he has spoken with a number of people in the neighborhood "who had expressed some concerns regarding their lack of knowledge about what was to take place."

For the 400-bed jail to be built north of the Sheriff's Operations Center on Cooter Pond, the county would have to purchase and demolish about a dozen houses on the site.

"Many were concerned that the funds that would ultimately be received would not be enough to relocate and to pay higher utilities and higher taxes. And then there were some that simply did not want to move," he said.

Fitzpatrick said his clients include those whose houses would be purchased and others in the neighborhood. He would not say how many people he is representing. He said, however, that he had served as an attorney for many of them before the jail proposal.

He said he had been trying to help the residents understand how the process would work if the county goes ahead with its plans. But because the Inverness City Council voted against the jail Tuesday night, he said he had no plans to take any legal action now.

Until Tuesday, residents affected by the county's plans had not expressed their opinions at public meetings. But at the City Council meeting, they presented a petition signed by most of the homeowners opposing the jail. The council then voted 4-0 against the jail.

On Wednesday, the County Commission decided to request a joint meeting with the City Council to try to explain why commissioners think the jail should be downtown. But Council President Pete Kelly said he is not in favor of the idea. He said he would ask to speak at the County Commission meeting next week to explain why the council opposed the idea. If the commission still wants to schedule a joint meeting after that, Kelly said he would consult with the other council members.

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