Johnson County Justice Center

Johnson County can’t agree what to do about jail, courthouse needs

(Source: “Johnson County can’t agree what to do about jail, courthouse needs, Officials will meet again at later date,” The Gazette, 14 October 2013, by Gregg Hennigan)

After more than three hours … nothing.

Besides a commitment to meet again at another date, that’s what came out of a work session Monday between the five members of the Johnson County Board of Supervisors and the county attorney and sheriff on what do about the county’s long-standing jail and court security and space issues.

The group – particularly the supervisors, who have final say over funding and construction decisions – could not reach an agreement on how to proceed after voters twice in the past year rejected funding plans for a criminal justice center.

There seemed to be interest from a majority of those present to focus on the court needs for now and explore the construction of court annex building immediately south of the current courthouse. There also was support for proceeding with separate jail and court projects rather than a combined facility in the form of a justice center.

But there was enough disagreement on the details that no decisions were made Monday. The seven elected officials will reconvene Oct. 24 to try again.

“The public expects us to do something,” Supervisor Rod Sullivan said

He was trying to get one more supervisor to join him and board Chairwoman Janelle Rettig in supporting a request for proposals on the annex idea.

John Etheredge was interested but wanted more details. Terrence Neuzil said he would not back any plan that did not include a commitment to resolve security issues at the jail. And Pat Harney said he does not want to put of millions of dollars into repairing the jail when a whole new facility is needed.

Sullivan and Rettig said they, like Neuzil, want to see repairs made to the jail, but they want to focus on the courthouse first.

The thinking behind abandoning the justice center idea and making the courthouse the priority stems from public opposition to the justice center being centered on the jail part of the project.

The justice center got majority support in the two recent elections, 54 percent in May for a $43.5 million bond issue and 56 percent in November for a $46.8 million bond, but 60 percent was needed to pass.

“We’ve lost twice on a joint building,” Rettig said. “I don’t see where it will ever pass.”

The jail and courthouse both are overcrowded and have security concerns.

Justice center opponents argued the projects that went up for a vote were too expensive and had too many jail beds. They also took issue the number of arrests by local law enforcement, particularly for drug offenses, and the disproportionately high number of minorities in the criminal justice system.

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