Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Hunter Hilton Part III: Sheriff Hunter "Trust Me" Chairman Murphy Still Fighting the Civil War

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – As support for a new County jail falters and County voters seem less inclined to vote to raise their own taxes to pay for it, the County God Fathers are now scheduling Town Hall Meetings whenever they can. Part III of this series concentrates on what transpired when Sheriff Hunter came to the microphone at Winfield to make his case for his new jail, the Hunter Hilton.

Sheriff Hunter: "Not somethin' I wanted to do."
"You can put lipstick on a pig, but ..."

Sheriff Hunter came to the microphone and immediately, in soothing mellow tones reminiscent of Bill Clinton, began talking about raising taxes. He said, "Nobody wants a new jail. This is not somethin' I wanted to do, but the condition of our jail is poor... We've outgrown it."

The Sheriff continued, "It puts our staff in harm's way. There's a lot of blind spots... A few years ago we spent $200,000 replacing all of the F-Max doors... The jail is a constant maintenance bucket... You can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig."

No more "Band-Aids"
No more talk of renovation

"Mr. Columbia County" Dale Williams Talks About the Jail and the Possibility of Renovation

"As your sheriff, I'm tired of putting a Band-Aid on a wound that will not heal. There has been some talk about, "Well, we could spend $8mil out there and build a couple of pods and fix this facility up... There is a point of no return and we are there. I'm tellin' you. We work in this thing every day... This should have happened ten years ago. Jails are usually built with a 15 to 20 year life span. We're well past that. We patched; we fixed.... I'll be honest with ya, we tryin' to keep the worst of the worst in there."

Sheriff Hunter did not explain why his proposed new jail would last more than 20 years or what "the worst of the worst" is.

Odell Graham asked, "So Sheriff, the jail was antiquated when we built it?"

Sheriff Hunter answered, "The capacity of the jail is problematic. We're gonna' be gettin' maxed here probably in the next few years. With the county, the way it is growing."

The Census provides the following population figures for Columbia County: 2017: 69,612     2016: 68,198
2015: 67,806     2014: 67,662     2013: 67,566

Based on the 2017 population, the County has grown 2.9% over the past 5 years, or a little over 1/2% per year.

New Hunter Hilton Will Save Money

Sheriff Hunter said, "We going to have some cost savings on manpower." But he came with nothing to show how many men or how much money the County taxpayers were going to save for their $30mil plus investment in the new Hunter Hilton.


Your reporter asked, "Are there recent reports where prisoners have attacked the guards?"

Sheriff Hunter answered, "I think it's around 22 uses of force we've had out there at the detention center."

Captain Chris Douglas, the top man at the jail, gave the Sheriff a hand, "Yes, we have had staff assaulted out there in the last six months."

Your reporter followed up, "And that happens in other jails, also?"

Capt. Douglas replied, "I'm not sure about other jails, I know about the Columbia County jail."

Your reporter narrowed it down, "Has it happened in other jails you have worked at?"

Captain Douglas had 30 years experience with the FL Dept. of Corrections before coming back to his home town, Columbia County. He answered, "Oh, yeah."

Incidents between guards and inmates are not uncommon throughout the United States.

County Commissioner Tim Murphy piped up, "I can't sit here for that?"

Your reporter asked, "You can't?"

Commissioner Murphy [as spoken]:

"No. Cause the point is, what are you doin'? Are you valuing the life of a gentleman goin' out there or lady workin' for thirty thousand dollars a year, tryin' to get back to their family? You can walk up there in the back side of F max. And the Sheriff, me, or whoever can't sit in that control room and see what's goin' on in that shower. So you're goin' down the line -- well -- did somebody get hurt to justify $28 mil? That's ludicrous."

Your reporter followed up, "I didn't say that."

Ideas from "Up North"

Commissioner Murphy continued, "That's stuff you brought from up north. You're putting a dollar [value] on a human being's life."

Commissioner Murphy's remarks weren't playing well with the attendees.

Sheriff Hunter
Trust Me -- 'The sky is falling'

Sheriff Hunter jumped in, "Let me say this. You folks hired me to do a job. And you hired me to do the best job I could and get the best people that we could to operate the Sheriff's Office and the Detention Facility."

The Sheriff said the roof is "falling in" and cast iron pipes are "wore out."

Oni Allen asked, "What is the average length of time that an inmate stays in jail?

Capt. Douglas answered, "About three days. The one's that's sentenced, I'd say 30 days."

The jail design is not complete, nor, according to Sheriff Hunter, have the County's God Fathers decided whether to build steel or concrete prisoner housing units.

The Cost of Renovation

Your reporter asked, "Have you ever sought out from any of your architects, or anybody, the cost to renovate what you have now?"

County Manager Ben Scott answered, "We've had three different consultants come in and look at the jail. All three of them said, "You need to tear this facility down."

Sheriff Hunter added that Rutherford Architects, "Who originally was slated to design the new jail," said it needs to be taken down.

Your reporter followed up, "He was under contract to build the new jail."

Sheriff Hunter asked nobody in particular, "Why do you want to spend $200,000 on somethin' you already know what the answer is?"

Commissioner Williams added, "That's right."

Sheriff Hunter closed out the conversation, "It's like I said before. You guys hired me and you hired these commissioners to do this for ya' and I'm just sayin' it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure this out."

This is not true. Neither Sheriff Hunter, nor any of the sitting commissioners had as part of their platforms the necessity to build a new county jail.


Shortly after the meeting concluded your reporter reminded Chairman Murphy that it was not 1856, that saying that people from the North don't value human life was silly, and the Civil War was over.

Chairman Murphy answered, "Not when you've crossed the Mason Dixon line."

And there you have it. The Civil War continues.

Nobody tells the Good Ole' Boys what to do. They seceded from the United States, then began the Civil War in 1861, because nobody tells them what to do.

They want to build a new jail; they're going to build it. If the County tax payers don't want to fund it their way: oh well.

If it takes money scams, sleight of hand, and picking the public's pockets, these boys are going to build the new Hunter Hilton for the County's quintessential good ole' boy, Sheriff Mark Hunter.

Photos: all photos in this article are file photos

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