Publisher's Note: Jim Bispo's weekly column appears in the Beaufort Observer.
The Turnage is about to close. Of course it is. Are there any among us who believe that the powers to be in and around Washington (is it Little Washington or Original Washington??) are going to let that happen?? We are yet to hear from the Committee of 100. If they could get the support of the EDC, they could probably purchase the facility before the bank takes it back, partner with someone like Randy Parton (if he would be willing to do that without changing the name) and turn it into a real tourist magnet. If?? Yeah, right. Stay tuned...
Whatever you hear in the meantime, don't hold your breath until the closing actually happens. Already we are hearing howls of protest against the closing. The justification for continuation seems to be primarily based on the fact that there is already a lot of money invested in the renovation and we shouldn't let that go to waste. Nobody in the area seems to have ever heard of sunk cost. Instead of acknowledging that the money we have already poured into the Turnage is gone, conventional wisdom around here seems to be that pouring more money on the project will save it. Not necessarily...
So, what have we learned from our Turnage experience?? What should we have learned??
It isn't clear that we have earned anything as we continue to lay the groundwork for obtaining more taxpayer money to keep the project alive. What should we have learned?? We should have learned that a solid justification for spending taxpayer money involves more than emotions, memories, and a lot of happy talk. For openers, it involves the provision of and analysis of hard data, serious consideration of alternatives for openers.
As a matter of fact, it is likely that what the restored Turnage is to some folks a first class restoration of a beautiful building where they spent many happy hours watching vaudeville or movies or whatever. Others may well see the restoration of a memorial to the days of segregation. Still others will see it as a colossal waste of taxpayer money. But that's another subject for another day.
Today's conversation is about a new jail and sheriff's office. So far all we have seen and heard is pictures of the existing facility and emotional pleas for funding this proposal. The only requirement that has surfaced is that we need a new jail. Does everybody (or perhaps, anybody??) know what comprises the new jail. Is it a Joe Arpaio style place of detention or is it something else?? Nobody has said. All we have heard is we need a new jail. The justification for the new sheriff's office seems to be that since we are going to build a new jail anyway, we might as well add a little more and include a sheriff's office as well. Wow!! Some justification.
That may be all the so called justification we need. It seems as though the "one fifty five" (as in five to two) Commissioners have already agreed with the proposed project. And yet, we have seen no hard data supporting the need. In fact, according to some, the Sheriff's Office has been somewhat less than forthcoming when asked for backup data on a myriad of subjects. Why would this one be any different. Emotions got us funding for the Turnage restoration. Why wouldn't that work for the jail?? Seems as though it already has, sort of.
When we hear our County Commissioners haggling over where this new edifice should be located before we see a real justification for the project (which certainly needs to address a lot more than a recitation of emotions), it begins to look as though we don't need any more justification for funding for a new jail (and sheriff's office) than we did for the taxpayer money we spent on the Turnage. Maybe we simply don't know any better. Clearly, we do not seem to have learned anything from our Turnage experience.
We need to specifically identify and document the need and identify the specific requirements for the facility before we set about siting or financing it. It is only after the need and specific requirements have been documented and agreed upon, that we should begin to address how best to satisfy those needs - not before.