On a 1-6 vote Tuesday evening, where only Councilman Jimmy Jones voted “yes,” Kershaw County Council denied Sheriff Lee Boan’s request to take over authority of the Kershaw County Detention Center (KCDC). The most-often mentioned reason by those councilmen who voted “no” was that “if it ain’t broke, why fix it?” Others said they were concerned over a possible conflict of interest where “the fox would be guarding the henhouse.”
Early in the meeting, during public comment, Boan reiterated a number of points he made during his formal request presentation in July -- that there would be monetary savings and operational efficiencies from having the sheriff be in charge of both the KCDC and KCSO.
Jones echoed those points ahead of Tuesday’s vote, calling it a “win-win” for the county.
“We’ve had two months to consider this issue. I know a couple of you have reached out to the sheriff, but I don’t think all of you have and that’s a little disappointing. He’s not asking for any additional funds to run the jail.”
Jones speculated that, if council did not transfer authority to Boan now, if council ever decides they want him or a future sheriff to do so, they could ask for more money to operate the KCDC. Jones also pointed out that he’s been both a law enforcement officer and a former KCDC administrator.
“They are different, but it’s law enforcement, and that’s what sheriffs do,” he said.
Starting with Councilman David Snodgrass, each of the other six councilmen stated that their concerns had nothing to do with Boan himself.
“Checks and balances is a term that we know well; it’s ingrained in us from the beginning of our 9th Grade civics class -- it’s just how government works, and we know that government works when we have a healthy system of checks and balances,” Snodgrass said. “The issue of Sheriff Boan running the jail has nothing to do with the person, Lee Boan, and I think that’s very important when we have this discussion. Everybody in this room understands that Lee Boan is an upstanding human being, an outstanding man, and does a phenomenal job running the Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office. And I have no doubt (he) would do a fantastic job at running the jail.”
However, Snodgrass said he felt the reason both the KCDC and KCSO are so well respected across the state is because they each are “single-mind focused” on housing detainees and law enforcement, respectively. In addition, Snodgrass noted that law enforcement nationally is “under a microscope” and that combining the two departments would place the KCSO under even more scrutiny.
“The good news is, either way this goes, Kershaw County wins because we’ve got a great detention center that will continue to do a great job, and we’ve got a great sheriff,” Snodgrass said.
Jones “absolutely” disagreed with Snodgrass’ comments, saying that there would be checks and balances either way, whether the jail were run by a sheriff or the county. He also said that Boan has been able to improve the KCSO without requesting additional funds, and believed the sheriff would do the same if given authority over the jail.
Snodgrass did not dispute that, but reiterated his point that this wasn’t about Boan, specifically, but whether there was a situation at the jail that had created a need to transfer authority over it from the county to the sheriff. He said he did not see that such a situation exists.
Councilman Tom Gardner said pretty much the same.
“My decision’s not based on Sheriff Boan. Our detention center isn’t broken; I look it at like, ‘Why does it need fixing?’ If we had issues or things like that, I’d be standing in line saying we need a change,” Gardner said. “I don’t think we need a change, and that has nothing to do with Lee Boan; I think if he had the jail, he’d do a great job. I think whatever sheriff came in would do a great job. I don’t support it because I don’t think we need it…. I don’t see the need for a change… I don’t think that it’s broken and I don’t think it needs fixing.”
Councilman Sammie Tucker Jr. also said his opposition to the KCDC/KCSO merger had nothing to do with Boan, whose candidacy he supported.
“I’m under the concept, and I used this analogy with him, that I don’t think the fox can guard the henhouse,” Tucker said. “And then I had other citizens of the community that I conferred (with), and I heard what was said tonight, and what I have not heard anyone up here say tonight is that (Captain Tyrell) Cato is doing a fabulous job. He was doing a good job under (former KCDC administrator) Peggy (Spivey). He’s been bumped up, promoted up, to step into fill until we go through the process, and I’ve heard nothing but good things about him, and that’s not from him tooting his own horn. That has come from the public and his boss. So, I have to agree with Councilman Gardner and say if it’s not broke, what are we fixing?”
Tucker also said that he had heard from people in Sumter and Lee counties that Sumter County Sheriff Anthony Dennis -- who spoke on Boan’s behalf in July -- reluctantly took over the Sumter-Lee Regional Detention Center and only after those counties’ councils repeatedly asked him to do so.
“They were in a tumbleweed fall -- there was nothing good about it,” Tucker said of that detention center. “It was a time of crisis, (which is) why they leaned on the sheriff for him to take it.”
It was only after those repeated requests and discussions, Tucker said, that Dennis changed his mind.
“I’m not ready to take the ship from the captain and give it to a new captain because there are these bright ideas of collaboration and synergy -- all these big words we like to use -- to move forward,” Tucker said, confirming with County Administrator Vic Carpenter that some of Boan’s ideas could be implemented now with the KCDC remaining under county control.
Carpenter said, however, that Boan has only been in office a short time and has not had a chance to bring those ideas to county administrators.
Chairman Julian Burns said he had spoken with federal and state judges and claimed they all strongly oppose the idea of sheriffs running their county jails.
“We’ve heard twice from the (5th Circuit) public defender (Fielding Pringle) … who looks out for the rights of the accused is very strongly against the mixing of duties,” Burns added, and called for the vote.
Jones lifted his hand as the lone councilman in favor of transferring the jail to Boan. The remaining six -- Burns, Gardner, Snodgrass, Tucker and councilmen Al Bozard and Ben Connell -- all voted against the measure.
Afterward, Carpenter said he would begin the official search for a new, permanent KCDC administrator.