After covering local governments in a variety of states for more than 25 years, I have learned a few things. The most important is that no matter how well planned, deeply discussed or calmly thought out an idea, there will be many who simply hate it.
People love to sit on the sidelines and rip on their local elected officials. It was true in Arizona, Nebraska, Wisconsin and Minnesota, and it is true here.
Now, many people do have honest complaints and concerns, and those certainly should be heard. But it is often easier to dismiss and belittle than to actually work toward a solution.
I have watched the jail debate in Oregon with much interest. I went through something similar years ago while a young reporter at a daily newspaper in Arizona. The county planned that jail, held public meetings, fielded complaints and finally got the project off the ground. The jail still sits downtown to this day, and if I remember correctly it came in under budget. It was built for the future and has met the needs of the community well.
Ogle County has obviously been planning for a new jail for years. It smartly purchased land near the Judicial Center. Was it always for a new jail? I don't know, but that certainly makes sense to me. And it's not like this was done under cover of darkness.
I want to be clear that I have no dog in this fight. People are welcome to their opinions and passions – for or against. I support everyone's right to agree or dissent.
What I want to look at is the process that has been used. From my perspective, the county has handled this as well as I have ever seen. This has been done in broad daylight, with plenty of public meetings. The county even took the show on the road and held public meetings in a variety of places. Some were more well attended than others, but officials presented the plan, answered questions and – in some cases – took their verbal lumps.
For that, they deserve credit. Trust me, this kind of open government is not the norm in many places.
Some people don't want the jail in Oregon, and I understand that. But a portion of the anti-jail sentiment has come from other elected officials, namely on the Oregon City Council. Again, they are more than welcome to their opinions and as elected officials have constituents they represent. I get it.
But I also get that it is easy to be a part of the loud opposition. At times, this has had the feeling of the villagers grabbing torches and heading up to the castle to see just what the monster that Dr. Frankenstein made is up to.
Being against something, loudly, is easy. But when you are an elected official, it is usually not the right approach. We should expect our elected officials, at all levels, to be professional in their actions, not personal. And it was clear at the last council meeting that it was personal for one or two council members. Again, opposition is fine. But rants and threats are beneath the office.
There has been a jail in downtown Oregon since the 19th century. It makes sense to have a jail near the court rooms, and is done like this across the country.
There will be a new jail in Ogle County, and it will go on the land the county purchased on 6th Street. The city voted to not close the street, as is its right. But the county will simply make adjustments to the plan and move forward.
The jail is necessary, as pretty much everyone agrees. People also need to accept that the site has been chosen and the plan will move forward.
In the eyes of some, this is proof that government doesn't work. In the eyes of others, myself included, this is proof that it can work exactly as it is supposed to work.