The Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday reiterated a desire to allow the Gulf County Sheriff’s Office to move to a county building on Long Avenue in Port St. Joe.
However, commissioners took from the table consideration of having the Supervisor of Elections office take over the SO facility.
Gulf County Sheriff Mike Harrison came to the BOCC last week to request more space.
The building his office occupies, Harrison said, had run its course and he badly needed additional space in order to meet security, evidentiary and administrative needs.
He suggested an idea that had bounced around for several months – moving to the old Health Department building in the 400 block of Long Avenue.
Harrison already has his investigative unit in that building.
The main tenant of the building is the Supervisor of Elections, but that office inhabits less than half the available square footage.
Commissioners agreed Tuesday that the building would be ideal for the SO.
“I think it would fit the sheriff but it is too large for the Supervisor of Elections,” Commissioner Warren Yeager said. “We have to find the sheriff some space and I think that is a good place. I am for moving forward.”
But a proposed switch under which the Supervisor of Elections would move to the SO, criticized in particular by Commissioner Tan Smiley last week, was nixed by a 5-0 vote.
Supervisor of Elections John Hanlon communicated his willingness to work with the BOCC to identify a new space for his office, but expressed reluctance moving his office next to the county jail.
Smiley said last week that he believed voters could be deterred from voting if they had to go so close to the jail to vote.
Hanlon wrote that he would like to work with county staff and the sheriff to identify a possible site while remaining in downtown Port St. Joe, a more central location.
“I want to take off the table moving the Supervisor of Elections to the sheriff’s office,” Yeager said, adding that the SO office was likely “inadequate” for the Hanlon and his staff in any case.
“And it is part of the jail, I think Commissioner Smiley made a good point last week,” he said.
Commissioners voted to allow administrator Don Butler, Hanlon and Harrison to work together to identify a space for the elections office and a process to a seamless move.
Commissioners also approved going out for Request for Proposals to any property owners wishing to enter into a lease/rental agreement to provide the county building space in downtown Port St. Joe.
As Yeager noted there are several available buildings in the downtown area.
Smiley, returning to an ongoing pet issue, said the BOCC should take the opportunity as it prepares to spend money to provide new space for the GCSO to invite officials with the city of Port St. Joe to sit down and discuss potential consolidation of law enforcement.
“That is a city issue and that is their decision but I have no problem communicating with them,” Yeager said.
Butler also received approval to begin work to create a secure evidence room at the Long Avenue building as a first step in moving the GCSO.
Ron Jones with Beasley Allen, the Alabama-based law firm representing the BOCC in its pursuit of a claim against BP in the aftermath of the 2010 oil spill, said BP had rescinded its offer to the BOCC as well as a parallel offer to the Gulf County Tourist Development Council.
Jones said it was not a surprise nor was it action taken solely against Gulf County.
“BP has taken a position of late that they don’t want to speak to anybody about anything,” Jones said. “This is not specific to Gulf County, it is across the board.”
The BOCC claim, as with many other local government claims, remains as part of a pool in New Orleans, where a federal court has been hearing litigation in the case of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
Jones said the future could bring a “test case” of a local government claim which could serve as a template for all and that there were many “moving parts to the most complex litigation I have been involved in.”
He added that he would not be surprised if BP changes course.
“Hopefully BP will come around, hopefully sooner than later,” Jones said. “I think they will eventually change their mind and regardless we will move forward.”
Jones said his firm was still attempting to have the Gulf County cases released from New Orleans.
The BOCC last year rejected initial settlement offers from BP to satisfy losses incurred by the county and TDC.