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In a switch, Gainesville will OK permits for work at old jail

City leaders look to move past disputes with Hall County

POSTED: April 16, 2009 10:51 p.m.

Gainesville officials said Thursday that, despite previous statements to the contrary, they will continue to issue building permits to Corrections Corp. of America for renovations on the future North Georgia Detention Center.

The city recently halted inspections on the site and refused to give permits to the private jail operator, which plans to open an immigration detention center at the old Hall County jail by early May.

However, they changed their tune Thursday, saying that "in the spirit of moving forward" they will allow CCA to continue renovations on the property.

It was a decision Hall County and CCA officials alike were glad to hear.

"In the spirit of moving forward and for the best interest of all concerned, City Council has decided to remove its objection to the zoning issue present with CCA," City Manager Kip Padgett said.

Padgett and Mayor Myrtle Figueras said that the City Council discussed the issue in an executive session with CCA’s senior director for local customer relations, Tommy Alsup, for about 20 minutes Thursday morning.

The council had closed its regular work session to discuss potential litigation over the matter.

"They’re just really tired of all the disharmony that’s occurring because of this," Padgett said.

The decision seems to bring to rest a weekslong dispute between the city and the county over the future of the Main Street jail site.

The city intended to buy the facility in late 2007. However, the deal was never finalized, and city and county officials offer different versions on why the deal never came to fruition.

When the county announced a 20-year lease agreement with CCA earlier this year, city officials expressed disapproval.

The city later refused to permit renovations on the site, saying a private jail operation did not meet the city’s zoning requirements for Midtown.

County officials fought back last week, voting to override the city’s decision and allow CCA to move forward with renovations on the building, although city officials said the county’s move was not legally sound.

Yet Figueras and Padgett both said Thursday that they wanted to move forward, and hoped that the county would, in turn, honor its original agreement to sell the jail to the city.

County Administrator Charley Nix and Assistant County Administrator Phil Sutton said they were pleased to hear about the city’s change of heart.

"I think that’s an important thing for the community right now," Nix said. "I applaud Gainesville for coming around and thinking about it in that way as well."

"That’s all we’ve ever asked them to do is follow the law," Sutton said. "That’s good news."

The two remained mum, however, on whether the move would secure a future purchase agreement for the city.

Hall County Board of Commissioners Chairman Tom Oliver said the commission has not yet discussed an agreement with city. He did say, however, that he was glad to hear of its decision to again issue permits.

"It’s great that they’re working with CCA and we look forward to working with the city," Oliver said.

CCA’s spokesman Steve Owen said the decision will allow CCA to move forward with renovations and the eventual opening of the detention facility. Owens would not say whether the squabble between the city and the county had delayed the opening of the facility, which was scheduled for early May.

"We’re just looking forward to being good corporate citizens," he said.



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