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Grayson County Debate Finds an Answer

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After a lawsuit, a review and estimate, a cancelled bond vote, two potential locations, and many other small battles, the Grayson County debate over whether or not to privatize their downtown jail or build another, separate private facility was given an answer by County Judge Drue Bynum on February 24th. In September, Bynum was one of the four who voted affirmatively to hold a bond vote to the public, a bond vote that was very ambiguous and eventually thrown out.

Last week, a press conference held by Bynum yielded this information ("Grayson County Jail bond election cancelled," KXII, 24 February, 2010):

Judge Drue Bynum says enough is enough, and at a press conference today he said a bond issue to build a public jail is now also off the table. The future of the Grayson County jail is a seemingly never ending debate.

"This has become a volatile issue," said Judge Drue Bynum... "...I have heard from the people, they are tired of wrestling this bear, we have been dealing with this issue since 2001," said Judge Bynum.

The jail does need major renovations, but according to Commissioner Gene Short, The County is scheduled to pay off several debts in the coming months, freeing up money that can go toward remodeling the existing facility, without raising taxes...

..."We need to get past this and get a jail that is downtown, close to the courts, and is run by the Sheriff," said Magers. While getting a new jail built was the goal of many county leaders, Judge Bynum says the cost has become too high to continue. "We have got to figure out how to make lemonade out of lemons, and I am not going to go forward with an idea or an agenda at the sake of splitting this county open," said Bynum. 

Because the county has yet to say definitively that they won't build a private prison, the debate is technically still alive.  Still, the Commissioners have made a choice to not build a new jail (public or private) until they renovate their existing jail and pay off some outstanding debt. After that task is accomplished, it is still possible that they could build a new private facility. What is known is that there will not be a new jail at all until the aforementioned goals are reached. However, I imagine that if a new jail is built in the coming years, that it will be a public prison "run by the Sheriff" rather than run by a company.

This was a good choice by the Judge and Commissioners. Paying off their existing debt is the responsible action to take, rather than forcing through a private jail project. It was a rocky road to come to this decision, and I would bet that the privatization topic will arise again within the next few years once tempers have fallen. However, a congratulations is due to the people and officials of Grayson County for finding a responsible plan to jail renovation rather than constructing a new, privately-operated facility with the thinking that it will bring in jobs and money at no cost to the county. 

We will keep our eyes open for any new developments in the months and years to come.