I have been watching the new jail go up in Oregon since the ground-breaking in April of 2019.
I wrote quite a few stories about the new facility before that event more than a year and a half ago even took place. Stories about how bad the current jail was. Stories about why the new jail was needed. Stories about the County Board approving the project. Stories about the City of Oregon fighting the project (well, a road closure). Public meetings, public disagreements, threats of lawsuits.
There were many stories.
But earlier this month, there was a ribbon cutting at the new jail, officially called the Judicial Center Annex. It is right there, smack dab in the middle of town – just what certain council members feared.
The building itself, however, is certainly not an eyesore. In fact, I think it fits quite well with its surroundings. It is obviously perfect with its partner, the Judicial Center.
No, I wouldn’t want to live right behind it, but the county is buying up those homes so they can be razed.
As I toured the new facility, I thought of one person – Kim Gouker. Kim was the County Board Chairman who championed the new jail more than anyone, in my estimation. He was there at the ground-breaking, shoveling dirt with other officials. I thought he earned that moment, because he was the one who faced some pretty angry crowds before the jail was built.
I remember a meeting in Oregon, when Kim was pelted with angry questions from people about the proposed building. Yes, some people were polite, but there were some unhinged moments, I thought. But Kim just calmly answered the questions. He had an answer for everything and knew the facts down to the smallest detail. You could argue with him, but you could not stump him.
Sadly, Kim was not at the ribbon cutting, having died suddenly on Sept. 10, 2019. As I wrote in this space the week after his death, I always liked Kim because he was available for questions, did not dodge tough ones and was no blowhard. He cared about public service and Ogle County.
I admired that. I can tell you I have covered many, many officials on the local, state and federal level. Many of them only care about themselves and a few rich constituents. Seriously.
Kim was mentioned in passing at the ribbon cutting, but I think he deserved more than a few remarks. He was a real champion of the project – the face of the project, really – at a time of very heated opposition. Some of you may not remember how rough it got, but I read the letters of opposition to the new jail that ran in this fine newspaper. They were plentiful and pretty personal at times.
But Kim didn’t let is phase him that I saw. Maybe it did in private, but not in public. That takes a lot of guts – something we need in our elected officials.
It seems to me there should be a plaque somewhere on or in the new annex with Gouker’s name. No, he didn’t pay for it – the taxpayers of Ogle County did. Well, Kim was one of those so I suppose he did pay for some of it.
But he, and other County Board members, did the work of getting this controversial and much-needed building built. For better or worse, during those very difficult months before the project go off the ground, Kim was the general leading the county’s charge for the new jail. That should be remembered.