Up & Coming Weekly

May 31, 2016

Up and Coming Weekly is a weekly publication in Fayetteville, NC and Fort Bragg, NC area offering local news, views, arts, entertainment and community event and business information.

Issue link: https://www.epageflip.net/i/685698

Contents of this Issue


Page 12 of 36

12 JUNE 1-7, 2016 WWW.UPANDCOMINGWEEKLY.COM NEWS The North Carolina State Crime Laboratory op- erates full-service laboratories in Raleigh, Ashe- ville and Greensboro. Typically, evidence from Cumberland County Law Enforcement Agencies was sent to Raleigh for analysis. Typically, the local agencies waited months to get the results of those analyses back. At one time, Cumberland County prosecutors were waiting for more than 1,300 drug samples to be analyzed. Two years ago, at the urging of District At- torney Billy West, city and county governments agreed to fund a local crime lab primarily to test illegal drugs. Two years before that, county officials broke ground on an expansion of the Cumberland County Detention Center because of severe overcrowding. The original jail was built to house 568 inmates; but regularly held more than 640 men and women. The $15 million expansion project added 316 beds to the jail, which had been overcrowded for many years. The new ad- dition expands the jail to an inmate capacity of 884, making it one of the largest detention centers in the state with 187 sworn officers and a civilian staff of 79. On average, the daily inmate population is about 740, according to Sheriff Earl "Moose" Butler, well below capacity. What does the crime lab have to do with easing jail overcrowding? "It's one of three actions taken in recent years to manage the detention cen- ter population," said West. A prosecutor was assigned to oversee jail operations and the Sheriff as- signed a liaison officer to assist the D.A. The new Fayetteville forensic laboratory has provided test results in drug cases to the Sheriff and the Fayetteville Police De- partment in one to two weeks, explained West, who added, "Those cases represent up to 20 percent of our case load, and moving them through the courts rapidly results in a reduction of the detention center population." Integrated Forensic Laboratories LLC, of Texas, was hired to operate the local lab in a downtown, county-owned building. The company says it has operated labs sup- porting law-enforcement work for more than 40 years. Local law enforcement is no longer dependent on the overwhelmed state laboratory for analysis of evidence in substance abuse cases. The Sheriff 's Office would like to see the local lab expanded to include DNA testing. "It's expensive but needed," said Sheriff 's Office Legal Counsel Ronnie Mitchell. The sheriff 's office budget request for Fis- cal Year 17 includes $30,000 to begin DNA testing. The science of DNA analysis, he says, has become extremely sophisticated and requires the latest technology and trained personnel. Crime Lab Eases Jail Crowding by JEFF THOMPSON The City of Fayetteville's dispute with its Public Works Commission may soon be a thing of the past. PWC filed suit against the city asking the court for a declaratory judgment defining once and for all the operating relationship between the bodies. Superior Court Judge Allen Baddour, Jr. ruled that under current law PWC has the protections of a public authority. That means the city-owned utility enjoys nearly total autonomy, and its governing board does not answer to City Council. The judge's 16-page order confirms the legislature's intent in establishing the Public Works Commission more than a century ago. And Baddour found that "the general assembly, in consolidating and re-codifying the PWC Charter in 1979, intended for the PWC to continue to have the same authority…" The unusual dispute has lingered for two years, provoked initially by former City Manager Ted Voorhees. He and a 6-4 city council majority interpreted the city charter as giving council more day-to-day authority over PWC than had ever been exercised by the board. The utility commission decided to file the lawsuit to reconcile the disputed differences. Last year's election changed the council majority and Voorhees was forced to resign following a closed council meeting. City Council met in closed session again last week but took no action afterward. Mayor Nat Robertson tells Up & Coming Weekly, however, that in the last minute of the hour-long meeting, Council made a decision not to appeal the judgment. The city has 30 days to decide whether to do that. Robertson says City Attorney Karen McDonald should have advised the council, in keeping with the Open Meetings law, that its decision should have been made public when the regular meeting resumed. Robertson appears to have succeeded in winning a council consensus, having said earlier that "I look forward to a renewed relationship with the PWC Board and know that we will be able to continue to work together even better since the courts have defined our roles. Council has decided to come together with PWC to find common ground we can agree on." He says a starting point would be a review of House Bil 392, which included concessions not in the judge's order. The bill was referred to the Senate and rests in committee pending further action which was put on hold during the judge's deliberations. The mayor said the council vote to review and revise the house bill was "nearly unanimous." He would not identify members who prefer appealing the decision. Public Works Commissioner Wade Fowler, a former City Council member, said "I believe the issue had to be settled by someone in authority. I was prepared to live with whatever the decision was," Veteran Councilman Bill Crisp is among those who prefer appealing the judge's decision to a higher court. The court order clarified that PWC is obligated to make annual transfers of funds to the city in keeping with an agreement that has been in effect since 2008. Baddour declared that as a public authority, PWC is independent of city government even as it applies to budgeting. PWC / City of Fayetteville Progress by JEFF THOMPSON Superior Court Judge Allen Baddour, Jr. has ruled that PWC has the protections of a public authority. . At one time, Cumberland County prosecutors were waiting for more than 1,300 drug samples to be analyzed. JEFF THOMPSON, Senior News Reporter. COMMENTS? news@upandcomingweekly. com. 910.484.6200.

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

Archives of this issue

view archives of Up & Coming Weekly - May 31, 2016