Wise County Commissioners have taken an important step toward assuring county residents they will have a quality space for outdoor activities by taking over operation of the Wise County Sheriff’s Posse grounds.
There may be legitimate questions about how this action was taken without public input, but there is no doubt change needed to be made. For years we have heard complaints about the poor quality of the Posse grounds facilities.
The barns are filthy and many of them leak. In the Rabbit Building, insulation is falling from the ceiling. Drainage is an issue, and paving in some areas is badly needed. Just this year I saw a woman going to the Youth Fair Auction who was trying to dodge mud holes at the barn entrance. There are also complaints about the seats in the auction area and users say toilets often do not flush properly. Electrical issues abound.
The indication that the facility will be turned over to the Public Works Department for maintenance is good news indeed. Tom Goode and his staff have done wonders with Wise County Park. With the county operating the facility, Sheriff David Walker will be able to assign inmate work crews to help maintain and improve it.
Lots of questions remain to be answered about usage of the facility, but formalizing the rental process within the Public Works Department, located just across the street, will be a great help to those who want to rent the fair grounds.
This isn’t to say the Sheriff’s Posse can’t continue to use the facility – just that they will no longer manage it. Perhaps a compromise can be reached to allow the Posse to continue to use the facility rent-free for several years for their annual rodeo.
I’m not exactly a newcomer to the Posse grounds. I showed a small Hereford calf at the first Wise County Youth Fair when it was held on the old Decatur Baptist College football field.
As a young person I looked with admiration on men like Charles Branson, Gordon Perkins, Sam Kiker and many others who helped build the Posse grounds. The founders’ connection with the late Sheriff Rook Ramsey made the Posse a natural to help build and maintain the facility.
But today, the Posse has no connection with the Wise County Sheriff’s Department. Sheriff David Walker said he had only called on them once for a search and only a couple of members showed up to help.
The Posse grounds are a valuable asset for Wise County, but as time has passed people’s expectations have changed. Today, they demand a quality facility that is well-maintained and operated on a businesslike basis. The county has the resources to do that.
As I read the lease, the buildings and rodeo arena are owned by the Posse and they must be reimbursed somehow by the county for the improvements made over the past 50 years. The Posse also has the option of removing all the facilities and moving them to some other location, although that does not seem feasible.
While the transfer of control is an important step forward, it was handled poorly. Many people, including Posse members, have known for more than a year that the county did not plan to renew the lease – but the matter was never publicly brought before county commissioners for discussion, and members of the Posse said their requests to discuss the lease with County Judge Bill McElhaney were rebuffed.
So here we are. An important step forward for all of Wise County is now tainted by the poor handling of the decision not to renew the lease.
I hope the “transition committee” of Commissioners Kevin Burns and Danny White, Sheriff Walker and Public Works Director Goode can work through the multiple issues involving the transfer so we can move forward with improvements to the fairgrounds.
Let’s hope it happens sooner rather than later.
Roy Eaton is publisher of the Wise County Messenger.