Members of the Smithfield Town Council met with their attorney behind closed door last week to discuss the proposed site of a new Johnston County Jail. WTSB News has learned a closed session during the Jan. 3rd council meeting was held to discuss the jail site.
At the start of the meeting, Mayor Pro Tem Emery Ashley asked the closed session be moved from the end of the meeting to the beginning so members of the public could hear what the council had to say afterwards.
The board met behind closed doors for a full hour with attorney Bob Spence but when they emerged made no announcement. A WTSB News reporter asked Mayor Andy Moore and Attorney Spence after the meeting what was discussed. Moore replied, “Potential litigation.” When asked if the “potential litigation” involved the new jail site on Buffalo Road, Spence answered saying the closed session was held so the council “could fully understand their options” should a rezoning request for the jail be brought before them.
WTSB News has learned during the closed door meeting a show of hands was requested to see who would vote for rezoning the property for the jail site. We were told a majority of the 7 member council would vote against the rezoning. No one in the meeting would tell us how many council members supported the rezoning and how many did not.
Some questions have been raised as to whether government agencies can take a consensus vote in closed session and whether that violates public meeting laws. A 1996 lawsuit ruled in favor of the City of Winston Salem being able to take consensus votes privately in most cases as long as a vote on the matter was required in open session.
Opposition has been growing to the proposed public safety center on a 68 acre site at 1860 Buffalo Road, just north of Booker Dairy Road. In a 4-to-3 vote last November, county commissioners narrowly approved an option to purchase the land from local businessman Frank Lee. In December, 14 people spoke against the site during the monthly Smithfield Town Council meeting. Speakers said they understand the need for a new jail facility but they prefer it not be located so close to public schools and the Smithfield Recreation & Aquatics Center.
The Selma Town Council will hold a public hearing this Thursday night to gather input from their residents on the proposed jail site.