Stalled rural jail project back on track

Construction is set to resume after lawsuits were dropped in Randolph County.
Tuesday, November 18, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 3:58 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

A rural Missouri jail project, stalled by financial problems and fighting among Randolph County officials, edged back on track Monday as a citizens group dropped lawsuits challenging its construction and a local conglomerate pledged to buy the first $1 million of county construction bonds.

Citizens for Good Government filed papers informing Special Judge Robert Lee Campbell it had dropped its two lawsuits against the county, saying it didn’t want to delay the resumption of the jail’s construction. The parties had been scheduled to meet Tuesday to continue talks about a possible settlement, but Campbell postponed the meeting until next week.

“If we assume everybody up there in Randolph County is acting rationally, it should all be over,” said attorney Patrick Cronan, who represents the group.

One lawsuit — with the Republican presiding commissioner, Jim Myles, as co-plaintiff — asked that the other two county commission members, the county clerk and the county treasurer, be barred from spending money on the troubled project. Myles joined Monday in dropping that lawsuit.

A second lawsuit, with the citizens group as sole plaintiff, challenged as illegal the county’s hiring of a professional engineer to represent local officials in the project, and it asked that the county be repaid for the engineer’s services.

Terry Fusselman, chairman of Citizens for Good Government, said in a statement that the lawsuits were dropped because his members “are satisfied that the project is now under competent and responsible management.”

Barry Orscheln, whose family-owned conglomerate is headquartered in the county, had offered his company’s no-charge assistance in analyzing the project’s finances, overseeing construction and storing materials.

Orscheln’s offer had conditions: The legal fights had to end, as did conflicts between the three-member county commission. And the finances of the more-than-$7-million project had to be analyzed.

The analysis moved ahead Monday with a meeting of a newly formed financial advisory panel. The panel is made up of local financial institutions, Orscheln’s managers and representatives of the county. Because of the controversies, bonds the county needs to pay for the project had been deemed unsellable. Orscheln said that his company committed Monday to buying the first $1 million in bonds once they are on the market.

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