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Supervisors hold last public input hearing

BY DANIEL SEIDL | OCTOBER 08, 2013 5:00 AM

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While proposing to build a new Johnson County Jail and Courthouse is highly controversial in the area, county officials are once again moving forward after two recent initiatives failed to garner voter support.

At the last public-input hearing Monday evening, the Johnson County Board of Supervisors closed a series that began in August.

Designed for members of the public to address their concerns about special needs in the proposed facilities, the meetings were developed to find out what they want to see come out of the supervisors’ next proposal.

The first of two recent proposals that failed to garner the necessary 60 percent supermajority to fund the new facility would have cost $46.8 million and would have housed a new 243-bed jail and six courtrooms.

In a November 2012 referendum, it received 56 percent of the vote.

A second proposal, priced at $43.5 million, was a scaled-back version that would have included 195 beds and four courtrooms. It received 54 percent of the vote in May.

Overwhelmingly, the most common piece of feedback brought up Monday night was that the proposal for a new courthouse and jail be split in two.

In addition to the supervisors, Johnson County prosecutor Janet Lyness, Johnson County Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek, and University of Iowa Assistant Vice President for the UI police Chuck Green were present at the meeting.

Joe Johnston, who has been a lawyer in Johnson County for more than 45 years, said the need for a new courthouse is clear.

“I think I have spent more time in this courthouse more than any living human being,” he said. “I would like to see the courthouse improve.”

Johnston said that if the two buildings were proposed separately, it would move the courthouse forward more quickly.

“The linking of the two is what is causing it to be defeated,” he said. “They were voting against the jail, not the courthouse.”

One local advocate for equality had quite a different perspective.

Charlie Eastham, a member of the Coalition for Racial Justice called upon the jail’s current ethnic makeup as a concern.

“It seems to me that just thinking about the capacity for the jail, one major consideration should be if the number of people in the jail is inflated due to local police officers,” he said, adding that he would like to see further supervisor action come about.

While African-Americans make up around 5 percent of the county population, they made up 42 percent of the jail’s average daily population in 2010, the DI previously reported.

Supervisor Chairwoman Janelle Rettig said while the possibility of separating the proposals has been considered, it hasn’t been considered to this extent.

“We’ve never tried voting alone on the courthouse, and I think that’s worthy of consideration,” she said.

However, there are also some possible downfalls of separating the proposals, said Supervisor Rod Sullivan.

“The downside to that is that both are needs,” he said. “If you do one or the other first, then obviously that means that whichever one is left out waits even longer.”

With the series now at a close, the supervisors will make their decision on a new proposal in the next week, Rettig said. On Oct. 14 the board will meet with the county attorney and the county sheriff to complete the plan.

“We’ve received a lot of input, and there are a variety of ideas out there,” Rettig said. “We don’t know exactly where we’re headed next.”


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