Government / Politics

Sups approve naming new jail extension after retired sheriff Curtis J. Hill

When Sheriff Darren Thompson asked supervisors to name new jail facility after retired sheriff Curtis J. Hill, the issue was almost derailed over a lack of insurance connected to actual construction of facility.

The county board of supervisors approved a resolution Sept. 12 to name the new county jail expansion the “Sheriff Curtis J. Hill Building,” but not until a troubling issue of insurance was settled first. In bringing the resolution forward to name the new complex, San Benito County Sheriff Thompson reminded everyone that it has been in the works for more than a decade, but that the end is now in sight, with a groundbreaking ceremony scheduled for September 25.

“There will be a much grander celebration in about 18 months for the grand opening,” he said, adding that he was there to seek approval on two items: the naming of the building and a plaque or monument with the names of everyone responsible for moving the project forward.

Supervisor Anthony Botelho said he believed it was important to remember the people who worked on the project. Supervisor Robert Rivas questioned whether there were any county standards for naming public buildings. Ray Espinosa, county administrative officer, said there presently is not a standard, but one is being drafted to bring back to the board for consideration. Supervisor Jaime Da La Cruz said the Parks Commission has a standards policy that the county might adapt. He recommended that the entire jail be named after Hill.

Rivas said he could not support the sheriff’s proposals, connecting his objection to an earlier discussed agenda item concerning approving an Owner Controlled Insurance Program (OCIP) for the jail expansion in the amount of $442,821. He said he could not support any dollar amount going to any plaque or memorial until the insurance matter was settled first.

Sheriff Thompson continued with his request to name the jail expansion after Hill and described Hill’s efforts to acquire the new facility. He said Hill worked with state officials to develop legislation to fund many county jail projects.

“As sheriff he competed for and won the award that we’re using for our county,” Thompson said. “Later, in retirement as a lobbyist for public safety, he fought to bring us another opportunity through phase 2 when we could no longer afford to take advantage of the award in phase 1.”

Thompson said Hill supported him and the county for the award under phase 2.

“He has not asked for any acknowledgement,” he said. “In fact, quite the contrary, when I was elected seven years ago upon his retirement, he handed me this project and said it was important for our future and not to drop it. Given the fact he served our community for 34 years, and he put more investment into this project than any of us, it’s befitting to put that retired sheriff’s name on that building.”

Supervisor Anthony Botelho said it’s more common to name buildings for people who have died and that it would be great to name it after Hill when he could still stand in front of it. Rivas said again he would like to see some sort of formal standards for naming county buildings in the future in order to vet people.

During public comments, Marty Richman said he hoped no one would touch a shovel until the county is fully insured, referencing the earlier discussion on OCIP. He went on to lightly rebuke the board by stating he realized they like to see their names on brass plaques, but recommended that to avoid inadvertently leaving someone’s name off the plaque it should simply state boards of supervisors with beginning and ending dates of the project.

“At the bottom you should put ‘thanks to the residents of San Benito County’ for supporting this, because if they didn’t, you wouldn’t, and if you didn’t, it wouldn’t be here,” he said. “How about giving thanks to the taxpaying public who’s putting $20 million into this, directly or indirectly, basically funding this.”

He said naming a building after someone who is still alive is a delicate issue. He said the person’s length of service has to be taken into account along with how confident they are that the person will continue to serve, or at the least not embarrass anyone down the line.

“In the case of Sheriff Hill it’s a pretty safe bet,” he said. “After 34 years he’s not going to change the way he thinks or the way he acts, or represents the county. He’s done it well, but I do think you should look to the future and eventually draw up a policy, so you’re not doing it on an ad hoc basis.”

Espinosa told the board that they would be revisiting the earlier agenda item regarding insurance because it relates to naming the facility. De La Cruz said there was a problem with that because they had already discussed it, but asked Espinosa if he was asking the board to visit the issue again under an “urgency basis.” County counsel Barbara Thompson advised De La Cruz they should discuss the matter further. De La Cruz said the board would vote on the naming and plaque items after discussing the insurance issue again. Supervisor Mark Medina asked if the item could be tabled until the insurance issue was cleared up.

“I was thinking we go ahead and act on the naming of the building and hold back on the monument until a later date,” Supervisor Jerry Muenzer recommended.

De La Cruz insisted the two agenda items be voted on as a package. Espinosa advised moving with haste, stating that the project is in jeopardy.

“We cannot have contractors out there building (without insurance), so there’s no sense discussing the name or anything else if this project doesn’t move forward,” he said.

The item was tabled and brought back during the afternoon session. Sheriff Thompson told Benitolink that the board had directed the Resource Management Agency to proceed with securing insurance from the individual contractors involved with the project. He said Rivas was not able to be back for the afternoon session, so the four remaining members voted 4-0 authorizing him to pursue a plaque memorializing boards of supervisors and others who pushed the project forward and to name the building after former Sheriff Curtis J. Hill.

Thompson said there is no anticipation that companies will have any difficulty obtaining insurance, so the Sept. 25 groundbreaking ceremony will proceed as scheduled.

John Chadwell

John Chadwell is a freelance photojournalist with additional experience as a copywriter, ghostwriter, scriptwriter, and novelist. He is a former U.S. Navy Combat Photojournalist and is an award-winning writer, having worked for magazine, newspapers, radio and television. He has a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Chapman University and graduate studies at USC Cinema School. John worked as a scriptwriting consultant, and his own script, "God's Club," was produced and released in 2016. He has also written eight novels, ranging from science fiction to true crime, which are sold on Amazon. To contact John Chadwell, send an email to: [email protected]