The race for Hunt County Judge has, for the most part, centered on one key issue and the differences between the two candidates regarding the issue.

The construction of the Hunt County Jail, what it is costing to find the problems with the facility’s foundation and what it may cost to repair the damage have been the source of discussion, letters to the editor, political advertisements and dozens of entries to blogs on the Herald-Banner web site.

Incumbent County Judge Joe Bobbitt and challenger John Horn are vying to see who will be the next county judge, a decision which voters will likely make in Tuesday’s Republican Party primary, as no Democratic Party, independent or third party candidates are in the running.

Bobbitt has said there is an ongoing investigation into the situation, paid for through surplus funds left over from the jail’s construction.

Horn claims the problems are a result of cost cutting in the original planning for the jail and said the surplus funds have run out.

Both candidates were asked to give their final thoughts on the matter in time for today’s edition of the Herald-Banner.

In doing so, Bobbitt also raised another and unrelated issue, alleging Horn may have committed a felony offense when he filed papers in a divorce case while serving as a deputy sheriff in April of last year.

Horn denied the allegation and argued Bobbitt is trying to deflect attention from the problems at the jail.

The Jail

Bonds for the building were sold in 1998. The original estimate came in at approximately $15.5 million. A construction manager was hired, jail trustys were used to perform some of the work and the actual initial cost of the building, which was reported to have been substantially complete in May of 2001, came in at around $13.5 milion.

Bobbitt said the plans received the approval of the Texas State Jail Commission.

However, several problems were found at the jail which prevented prisoners from actually being housed at the facility until it finally passed a state inspection in early 2002. Later that year came the first indications of problems with the foundation.

Bobbitt has said that repeated tests have revealed water intrusion is the cause of the movement in the floor and cracks in the walls.

Funds were established for maintenance and repairs at the jail, using surplus bond monies and interest on the bonds.

“We saw that we were going to have some continuing work, because we were having some issues with the floor,” Bobbitt said.

There was approximately $105,000 in the account as of the end of December. As of Friday, according to information from the Hunt County Treasure’s and Auditor’s offices, there was a little more than $10,000 remaining.

Bobbitt said the funds had been spent to pay for engineers to study the foundation problems and for geologic reports.

“And for some temporary bracing they put in and also the core drilling of the sally port area with the insertion of the chemical injection,” Bobbitt said. A survey was then conducted to determine the floor levels at the jail.

“At a six week time frame they will look at it again, to see if that level has moved any and to see if there has been a successful test,” Bobbitt said. “If this chemical stops the movement, then that gives us a good idea that we can move over to another area and see if it is successful in that area.”

Bobbitt said the county will need to conduct a rehabilitation survey to obtain an estimate as to any repair costs needed at the jail.

“Then we’re going to have to discuss the issue in the Commissioners Court,” Bobbitt said, adding that if the problems are found to be the fault of the contractor, the county would seek redress in the court system.

Horn argued that Bobbitt had claimed all along there was enough money remaining in the account to handle the problems at the jail.

“He said he had saved enough money on the jail to fix it,” Horn said. “You can’t tell people you’re saving money when in reality your spending it.”

Horn said he’s concerned over what the eventual price tag for the jail will come to.

“Where are the proposals, where are the geological surveys,” he asked. “At this point, we don’t know what this is going to cost.”

Horn is also worried that the structural problems could grow worse, forcing the closure of the jail.

“It would be a bank buster,” Horn said. “It would be an absolute nightmare.”

Horn also questioned why the general contractor on the jail project was not required to carry a performance bond.

“You go to any major construction project and the contractor has performance bonds,” Horn said.

Civil papers

While responding to questions about the jail, Bobbitt issued a written statement, alleging Horn may have committed a felony offense while acting as a deputy sheriff.

Bobbitt alleged that in April, 2005, Horn, while acting as process server for the sheriff’s office, signed a statement indicating he had delivered a notice of divorce to a respondent “in person.”

The respondent later testified he was not in the state at the time the notice was served. Horn was called as a witness and testified he had no recollection of personally delivering the notice. The respondent received a new divorce trial as a result.

Bobbitt alleged Horn could be guilty of either a felony or Class A misdemeanor offense of tampering with a government record and said the matter will be investigated by either the Hunt County District Attorney or County Attorney’s office.

“What happened in this case was a manifest injustice that shows a disregard for individuals’ rights, a disregard for the duties of an officer of the law and a willingness to make false statements,” Bobbitt wrote.

Horn said the entire issue has already been addressed to the satisfaction of both parties and that the service was just one of thousands of papers delivered by the deputies and constables each year.

“There was some type of clerical error,” Horn said. “The sleeve was marked as a citation by posting and the citation was posted. They acknowledged that in court. Both parties acknowledged it. There was no malfeasance in this.”

Horn said he laments what the race for county judge has come to.

“I’d hate to see this election decided on rumor and innuendo,” Horn said.

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