Newest Johnson County supervisor wants to rethink justice center


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Before securing the vacant seat on the Johnson County Board of Supervisors in Tuesday’s election, John Etheredge dreamed big in regards to growing the county’s economic base.

Running on the foundations of prosperous small-business and farming sectors, Etheredge said he is an active opponent of raising taxes for all individuals. However, he emphasizes that bonds used for county projects should not be implemented if money is readily available in the budget.

Once the board’s current issues have been addressed, Etheredge said, he plans to introduce an alternative justice-center proposal, citing the extensive and expensive current plan.

“I’m not for the current proposed justice center,” he said. “My first plan is to find an alternative … You’re looking at $43 million, and if I’m against it, I’ve got to have my own agenda and plan worked out. I’m not against doing technology upgrades, renovations, or adding on to [current facilities] altogether, but building a brand-new facility is not the answer right now.”

In February, supervisors voted in favor of a larger $46.2 million complex. If the smaller center passes in May, taxpayers will be responsible for $43.5 million. The new proposal calls for a 195-bed jail and court space, down from the original 243-bed proposal.

Supervisor Pat Harney believes the option of expanding and renovating current facilities can’t be justified at this time.

“It’s really not viable at this time to expand that,” he said, noting that the move has been entertained by current supervisors. “It’s not just the jail, it’s the court space we need as well. We can’t go up because there wasn’t sufficient footings on the original [jail] structure, and we can’t build out because there’s not enough ground [around the jail] to expand upon.”

Supervisor Janelle Rettig echoed Harney’s thoughts, stressing that she couldn’t speculate on a plan that didn’t have specifics.

Etheredge’s arrival on the board comes on the heels of Tuesday’s victory over Democrat Terry Dahms by  51 percent to 49 percent, marking the first time since 1962 a Republican has served on the board.

Officials said this new voice could possibly come at just the right time. The supervisors and local city councils have, in recent months, delved into public debate over a number of county services.

Most recently, Supervisor Rod Sullivan came under public scrutiny for attacking City Manager Tom Markus for what Sullivan called misconstruing his thoughts. The argument was published Feb. 8 on his online newsletter.

“There is always a degree of friction between local government — that’s life,” Mayor Matt Hayek said. “We’ve had tough spots with respects with the animal shelter, SEATS funding, and the Joint [Emergency] Communications Center, that’s to be expected. At the end of the day, we have mutual interests. The city of Iowa City and Johnson County overlap to a great extent.”

Coralville Mayor Jim Fausett believes recent disputes between local councilors and county officials should begin to clear up, but he couldn’t identify a specific timetable of events in doing so.

“There’s been some contention between the councils and the supervisors, but I think it has more or less to do with SEATS,” he said. “I would certainly be willing [to meet] with any or all of the supervisors to make sure we do work better. I think we need to sit down with each other, go over our agendas, and find out exactly what we’re doing that they don’t like and what they’re doing we don’t like.”

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