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LIGHTNING EDITORIAL: We still don't get the $20M training center

If the Board of Commissioners and Sheriff Charlie McDonald are now having to scramble to describe what the $20 million law enforcement center is not, they’ve got a problem.


That’s what happened Monday night when the commissioners were faced with several dozen people who showed up to register their opposition to the project, which the commissioners are on track to authorize within 30 days.
The citizens denounced the training center as preposterous, a waste of money and a local government overreach into the purview of the federal government, with its many military branches, national security operations and highly trained experts dedicated to national defense.
In private showings of a documentary that includes ISIS recruiting clips and stomach-turning beheadings, Sheriff McDonald has rallied other law enforcement agencies and local government units to support the training center. (That’s the video that convinced Hendersonville City Councilman Steve Caraker of the need to allow him and other conceal-carry permit holders to pack heat on the council dais.)
People opposed the training center based on the cost, what they called the militarization of the county sheriff’s office and the fulfillment of McDonald’s fantasy about a “posse” of civilian fighters that he could activate when this impending national emergency explodes right here in Hendersonville.
The 48,000-square-foot building is a third again larger than the nearest similar facility commissioners could find, in Winston-Salem. It would contain a 50-yard and 100-yard shooting range, two 50-seat classrooms, a locker room and gym space for the state-required POPAT (police officers physical abilities test). The L-shaped facility at BRCC also would include a 1,000-square-foot backup 911 center the county would use if the dispatch operation at sheriff’s office were knocked out.
Commissioner Grady Hawkins lamented that most of the training center opponents walked out before the sheriff and commissioners mounted a defense of the $20 million investment. Critics implied “that we’re running a rodeo over there,” Hawkins said. “Sheriff McDonald is not going to be throwing nuclear grenades out there at Blue Ridge Community College and some of the other things.”
OK, no nukes. But wouldn’t this one-of-a-kind tactical skills program offer training in tossing a flash-bang grenade at a holed-up bad guy? The cops used one at the Pulse night club.
Hawkins is right one point. Neither the commissioners nor the sheriff have done an adequate job selling the need for this facility. At the moment, there’s a wide gap between the elected leaders' perception of the threat risk and the public’s. Until that gap is narrowed, this $20 million investment will serve as a proxy for every plea that reaches the commissioners’ ears: “If we can spend $20 million for a law enforcement training center, why can’t we spend X number of dollars on school nurses, teacher pay raises, a decent track, greenways, fill-in-the-blank.”
McDonald has shown — in his now famous newsletter commentaries — that he’s capable of defending his point of view. In his next issue of The Guardian, he ought to take a swing at the need to invest $20 million in a training center like no other in the state.