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Getting to 'Yes' by voting no on justice center

BY GUEST COLUMN | APRIL 30, 2013 5:00 AM

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Dave Parsons’ opinion column urged that we “Vote Yes for the justice center” (DI, April 29). He is a member of the committee actively pushing the proposal. As such, his was a commendably civil, best effort to make the most of his unpersuasive case.

University of Iowa students have a stake in this May 7 bond election, and hopefully, they will vote.
Justice-center proponents start from a false premise: Opponents don’t understand the need for improvements in our justice-system facilities and procedures.

Not one of my acquaintances opposes the May 7 ballot proposition for that reason. Indeed, quite the contrary. Few, if any, even object to spending whatever taxpayer money we truly need.

No, the dispute doesn’t involve whether we need “something” — for reasons Parsons skillfully set forth.

The dispute is what that “something” should be, how much of it we need, where it should be located, and what reforms in incarceration avoidance should accompany new construction.

I’m not a member of either the “Yes” or the “No” committees. I just want to plan what we need, substantively and procedurally, and do it right, while not making things worse. Like the cable guy says, “let’s get ’er done” — get Johnson County voters to “Yes.”

Fundamental “getting to ‘yes’” strategy involves recognizing the distinction between parties’ “positions” and “interests.” Proponents and opponents share an “interest” in fixing the system. It’s the proponents’ “position” that’s caused the problem.

Proponents’ second logical failing is constructing a position on a conclusion that doesn’t follow from their premises: (1) The Courthouse and jail need fixing; (2) We have a detailed specific plan for doing that; (3) Therefore, everyone must vote for our specific plan.

As a law professor might respond to a student’s similarly faulty argument, “I follow you all but the ‘therefore.’ ” A need for “something” does not, “therefore,” compel adoption of their proposal.

Proponents’ stance is reminiscent of the late, former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, sometimes called “TINA” because of her response to opponents who proposed alternatives to her policies: “There Is No Alternative” (TINA).

It’s like the line from the country song, “That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.” “That’s our proposal, and we’re sticking to it.” There is no alternative.

Landfills used to be like that. When one filled, there was no alternative to creating more. Today’s acceptance of alternatives — such as recycling and composting — has saved hundreds of acres of farmland.

America leads the world in jail and prison cells. That doesn’t mean, when ours fill up, “there is no alternative” to just building more.

It is no less offensive to attach a big-box modern structure to our National Historic Register, 100-year-old Courthouse — as proponents suggest — than attaching a similar structure to the Old Capitol.

Here’s one of many alternatives:

Many find a detached, stand-alone criminal-justice facility more sensible and efficient — sheriff, judges, courts, and jail in one place. Proponents claim it won’t work. Apparently, they failed to tell that to the numerous Iowa counties that have already done it and like it. In fact it’s what we did when we needed more County administrative space: the separate administrative building an easy walk down the street.

This has the added benefits of preserving the integrity of the Courthouse exterior and setting, providing more space inside exclusively for civil proceedings, and avoids plopping a bunch of criminals in jail cells in the center of a downtown area the City would like to develop for tourists and residential use.

If the bond issue passes this time, “that’s all she wrote.” We’ll have to live with a desecrated Courthouse and other consequences. But if it’s defeated May 7 maybe, like Goldilocks’ porridge tasting, the third time they’ll get it right.

There are alternatives.

Nicholas Johnson
University of Iowa College of Law
www.nicholasjohnson.org 
FromDC2Iowa.blogspot.com


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