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Supervisors couldn't come to a decision about plans for a new jail and courthouse

BY DANIEL SEIDL | OCTOBER 15, 2013 5:00 AM

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Johnson County officials are at an impasse concerning the future of Johnson County law-enforcement facilities.

Since August, the Board of Supervisors has held numerous public meetings to discuss what community members want to see in terms of addressing special issues in the county jail and courthouse.

On Monday, the supervisors met to discuss this feedback and determine how to move forward. While agreeing to address need of the courthouse first and present separate proposals for the two facilities, disagreement came about in whether to address the jail in part now or focus on the courthouse and deal with the jail issue at a later date.

“If we just focus on the courthouse [without improving the jail], I’m not interested in this,” Supervisor Terrence Neuzil said. “There are some immediate needs [in the jail] that need to be addressed.”

Once completed, this would be the third proposal to address the special needs since November 2012. The first two bond referendums, which packaged the jail and courthouse into a new building, failed to secure the 60 percent supermajority from the voters necessary to pass.

Supervisor Chairwoman Janelle Rettig and Supervisor Pat Harney disagreed with Neuzil, noting that while the jail has needs, the needs of the courthouse are more pressing.

Along with the discussion about when and how to approach the problems in the courthouse and jail, all of those present at the meeting agreed there were some elements of the two failed proposals the community gave positive feedback on. Some of these elements included additional jail capacity, more courtrooms, and added security.

The use of commercial space was one of the 16 possible options outlined to move the project forward.

For Johnson County Sheriff Lonny Pulkrabek, many members of the public disagreed with the first two proposals because they believed that the county and the city had made too many arrests. Lowering the number of arrests, he said, wouldn’t be easy.

“Law enforcement is not allowed to ignore the law,” Pulkrabek said. “We can’t just pick and choose [which laws to enforce].”

Supervisors, along with Pulkrabek and Johnson County prosecutor Janet Lyness, agreed the public was more receptive to changes to the courthouse, and it would be more efficient to split up the proposals.

Rettig said the board should move forward on the courthouse as soon as possible.

“I think we have a ticking time bomb,” she said. “We have to recognize that.”

The supervisors agreed to continue the discussion on when and how to address the needs of the county jail on Oct. 24.

Though they aren’t done with the process, the supervisors are moving, Rettig said.

“We’re making progress,” she said. ”We would be foolish to not come up with a plan.”

DI reporter Abigail Meier contributed to this story.


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