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Board of Supervisors not considering new courthouse annex plans

BY BEN MARKS | NOVEMBER 06, 2014 5:00 AM

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Johnson County officials have no plans of putting another courthouse-annex referendum on the ballot after yet another failed attempt Tuesday night.

The Johnson County Board of Supervisors held a public meeting Wednesday with the Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee to discuss the future and direction the county would take after the annex referendum failed to gain the 60 percent supermajority it needed to pass.

The atmosphere in the room was tinged with frustration and weariness as the supervisors and council considered the paths left to them. As was repeated many times throughout the night, “All options are on the table.”

The one option that was not on the table, however, is plans for a new annex.

“At this point we’re taking a deep breath and reassessing at least immediate security needs of the existing building,” Supervisor Terrance Neuzil said. “That’s the first conversation we’re having.”

The supervisors said they believe the courthouse’s current security measures are not sufficient, and they were gong to rely on the annex to provide space for a weapon-screening room and metal detectors.

Without the annex, however, the supervisors are scrambling to find quick solutions to these long-term problems.

The most-often discussed solution is a series of mobile home or classroom-type trailers to be located on the south or west of the courthouse that would act as the main entrances and house metal detectors and the screening area.

“I called it this morning — and I think I’ve said it three times — pretty pathetic that there’s a chance we might have a mobile home sitting outside the courthouse, but the residents have spoken,” Neuzil said.

The supervisors relying on the annex to not only provide space for a screening room but more space in general.

Supervisors Janelle Rettig emphasized that even if the supervisors were to adopt the trailer-home option, it wouldn’t mean the courthouse was secure.

“The inmates, the law enforcement, the juries, the victims, the victim’s families, the defendant’s families — everyone is still comingling — still using the same bathrooms, the same hallways …” she said.

The supervisors said they’re moving quickly to identify the path they’ll take with the courthouse because of the deadlines of their current budget cycle. They said they will have the plans budgeted by the end of this year.

Solutions to the more long-term issue of lack of space were also considered, with an emphasis placed on “out-of-the-box ideas,” such as swapping facilities with the courthouse and Health and Human Services buildings, moving the courthouse into the post office building, a warehouse, or box store such as the old Menards and Hy-Vee, or even gutting it to convert it into apartments.

Dorothy Whiston, member of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee, said the root of the problem voters had wasn’t with the annex itself but a lack of trust in the criminal-justice system, and that the voters simply expressed their opinions in the only protest vote they had.

“We’re seeing the results of the widening dissatisfaction with how the justice system of our country works,” she said. “So I think besides all these practical things that need to be done, we as a committee need to begin to envision how criminal justice should work. We can’t change federal or state law, but there are things we can do at the local and state level.”


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