Commissioners Can’t Reach Consensus On Wording Of Contract For Jail Site

(Left to right) Johnston County Commissioner Vice Chairman Ted Godwin, Chairman Jeff Carver and Commissioner Allen Mims during Monday’s monthly board meeting.

Johnston County Commissioners remain divided on the purchase of land for a new county jail.  This week, the 7-member board could not agree on whether they should delete a specific paragraph in a land option agreement for the property. The vote failed 3-to-4.

In a 4-to-3 vote in November, commissioners narrowly approved a request to purchase 68 acres of land at 1860 Buffalo Road near Smithfield for the Public Safety Center complex. The land is owned by businessman Frank Lee.  Lee has agreed to sell the land to the county at a cost of $23,000 per acre or $1,564,000.

Both side have agreed the county needs time to conduct soil tests and seek the necessary rezoning from the Town of Smithfield.

Monday night, when County Manager Rick Hester presented the formal land option agreement for the board to approve Chairman Jeff Carver raised questions about a paragraph added to the contract by Lee’s attorney. Carver questioned some of the the legal wording and whether it would lock the county into buying the land regardless of whether it was suitable.

County Attorney Jennifer Slusser said she had spoken with Lee’s attorney to have the paragraph removed from the contract but they declined.

Commissioner Chad Stewart, who is in favor of the Buffalo Road site, said the contract was consistent with the board’s November decision and supported the terms that were included.

Carver said the wording was added to the contract by Lee’s attorney and it was not in the county’s draft. “Why are we limiting our options when it is our option? That’s what I don’t understand.”

Slusser said there was some flexibility in the contract in that the county will solely decide if the property is suitable and not the seller.

A motion by Vice Chairman Ted Godwin to remove the questionable paragraph failed in the 3-to-4 vote.

In an email on Tuesday, County Manager Hester told WTSB News he anticipated both the County and Mr. Lee signing the land option agreement very soon.  The contract will include the paragraph that had been questioned by the commission.