The Voters Are Accountable; They Will Foot the Bill
Responsibility and accountability are inseparable concepts, the former requiring the latter for enforcement. When an entity, be it individual or corporate, accepts responsibility for something, it becomes accountable to the entity that issued the responsibility. This is easily exemplified in occupational scenarios: I did not file my TPS reports (my responsibility), so I was fired (held accountable) by my boss (the entity requiring my accountability).
Responsibility can be delegated from a position of authority to a lesser position, but accountability rests only with that entity that accepted the responsibility in the first place. This is common and good practice in most organizations, public and private. An assistant manager, (accountable to the manager), is held accountable for the failure to provide customers with clean restrooms (the responsibility), despite the assistant manager's delegation of this responsibility to his subordinate, the clerk. The clerk is accountable to the assistant manager, but the clerk's failure to clean the bathrooms (meet his responsibility) does not relieve the assistant manager of his responsibility to carry out the requirements given by the manager (the issuing entity/authority). The assistant manager is held accountable by the manager, despite the delegation of bathroom cleaning to the clerk.
What I think is being drowned out under the arguments concerning the need of a jail, or lack thereof, is the issue of accountability. The recent problems with Beaufort County's jail have already cost more than $600,000 plus an additional $2,000,000 to the architects designing the proposed new jail.
I'd like you to consider that total amount for a moment, $2,600,000. Now add another $20,000,000 to that, which is on the low end of estimates of the cost of a new jail. I use the pronoun "you" for the reason that I expect most readers of BCN are Beaufort County residents, the people who will be paying that extraordinarily large sum of money.
This brings me to my questions: Who is responsible for this mess? Who, or what organization, has shouldered us - a county already struggling economically, with over two million dollars in costs and the potential for much, much more? We know that commissioners Belcher, Booth, Klemm, and Langley are directly responsible for the $2,000,000 paid to the architect, but even this expenditure is subsequent to the failures of responsibility that led to the jail needing repairs in the first place.
There is one person who is both responsible for the maintenance failures at our jail and accountable to the people of Beaufort County: Sheriff Alan Jordan. Regardless of what responsibilities Sheriff Jordan delegated to his subordinates, Jordan failed in his responsibility to maintain the jail. Before the jail was evacuated due to the electrical fire, the Sheriff cost our county about $10,000 after installing glass in the jail was not up to the applicable codes or standards required (I unfortunately could not find a reference for this, but remember reading about it). This means that the Sheriff conducted maintenance while being ignorant of the required standards. Then the major trouble came to light after the jail was evacuated. It was discovered that the backup generator was not even connected to the jail's circuit. Even worse, the generator had not been tested the entire time, not even once. This is ridiculous to anyone who has ever maintained a structure, be it a church, business, or even a home. Also arising from the jail evacuation and subsequent repairs are reports that simple plumbing repairs were never carried out, including a hot water shower that ran freely for months.
Alan Jordan was given the responsibility of maintaining and operating a necessary county facility, and he has failed us egregiously. His failure has cost our county millions of dollars already, and as our county commissioners are split along 3-4 lines, with the majority supporting a new jail, we stand to lose a great deal more.
It would not be prudent for me to criticize one of the most influential elected positions in our county without also clarifying that my criticism ends with the authority responsible, and does not extend to those persons that may have been subordinate to that authority and thus acting under delegated authority. The Sheriff is accountable for the actions of his subordinates to a degree; even if the maintenance issues at the jail were the result of failures of staff under Jordan's authority, the Sheriff is still responsible for the management, productivity, and even the failures, of those he supervises. As for the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office itself, meaning the Deputies and employees under Sheriff Jordan's supervision, I can find no fault. A daily perusal of law enforcement reports on Beaufort County Now and in the Washington Daily News tells me that our Deputies are certainly kept busy by our county's motley assortment of methamphetamine addicts, child abusers, and petty thieves. The Sheriff's office is a vital component of our county's law enforcement, filling the gaps between municipalities in our largely rural county. They deserve respect for their work and willingness to face danger and harm to protect us, and Sheriff Jordan deserves equal respect in that regard. I offer no discredit to his law enforcement competency, I am only concerned with his ability to manage his facilities and staff, and meet the requirements of his office.
Ultimately, the final accountability rests with the voters of Beaufort County. We would be wise to closely consider the histories and statements of candidates running for the office of Sheriff this year, as the consequences of poor leadership have been far reaching and expensive. The taxpayers of Beaufort County are literally paying for our Sheriff's failures.