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Archive for October, 2008

If you’ve ever had your house or car broken into, aside from feeling angry, violated and helpless, you want to see the person who did it to you receive a measure of justice.

You’re not too interested in what “jail diversion” option might be available to the miscreant. You just want to see that person in an orange jump suit for a suitable amount of time.  Such is the story of the new Polk County Jail, which opens Wednesday and is located near the east mixmaster of I-80/35.  Such is the story of any jail, actually. That’s why they exist – to protect law-abiding citizens from people who have no qualms about doing damage to the rest of us.

Polk County is, by far, our state’s largest county. We’ll be pushing almost 500,000 folks when the government does their next census in 2010. That’s great. Polk County and central Iowa have been a terrific economic engine for Iowa and, from my perspective, that engine is just getting warmed up.  Other counties are showing some economic growth, make no mistake, but don’t kid yourself; Polk County is the big dog in this story – and probably will be for some time to come.

But, with the good always comes a little bad. Crime is part of the detrius that follows metropolitan areas and dynamic growth, sad to say. when that happens, punishment and justice also must be part of the mix.

The new jail that taxpayers approved recently will cost $63 million. That number is solid. The jail will come in on budget.  Period.

What has us scratching our heads at the Supervisor’s offices is the ongoing operating cost. It’s not that no one anticipated operating costs; it’s just hard to get a handle on them.

I will say, both Republicans and Democrats have worked very well together to produce a financial plan that we can afford. None of this has degenerated into partisan fingerpointing. Nor, should it. The Blues and the Reds are elected to govern, not whine about each other – and that’s what we’ve done.

What’s so hard about figuring out the operating costs? Well, it’s a moving target. Here’s why: of the 1,100 or so inmates we generally hold at the jail, about half of them have been farmed out to other counties in Iowa and Missouri. That would include male and female, juvenile and adults.

Each county carries different costs. Each locale is a different distance, obviously, so transportation costs vary. Add to that, on the revenue line, an uncertain federal participation, costs become even a little harder to gauge.

However, as close as can be determined, the new jail will be a wash, costwise. We spend about $8 million for out-of-county inmate housing. That’s right $8 million per year.  And, the annual cost of hiring new staff and associated expenses will be about, you guessed it, $8 million. 

Where we expect to see savings, though, is in transportation. There will still be transport to the ancient Polk County Courthouse downtown for court dates, but transport from Ankeny is a whole different playing field than constantly driving vanloads of prisoners from Des Moines to Bethany, Mo. or various Iowa county jails.

The other question mark is federal participation. The Feds will have prisoners here and they will pay us to hold them. That’s good because that helps us meet our expenses. At this point, however, they haven’t pinned down a range of how many – or how few – people they want us to hold or for how long. 

Yes, we still believe in punsihment, that hasn’t changed. But, many of our “repeat customers” invariably hold some drug-related addiction. The Sheriff will also provide in-custody substance abuse treatment, which we need to break the cycle of repeat criminal offenses by addicts trying to feed their drug habits. The new jail will more than double the in-custody treatment services.

The Sheriff is currently able to provide 62 beds for in-custody treatment and that’s been pretty successful in getting people back into a crime-free life and out of other people’s homes and vehicles. The Sheriff will now offer 128 beds of treatment. How well will that work in preventing recidivisim? Obviously, we don’t have hard numbers but I believe it’s an investment that will pay dividends by preventing repeat crimes and getting some people off the taxpayers’ backs and onto the tax-paying rolls.

With the opening set for tomorrow after years of planning and hard work, the Polk County Jail is a good example of what we can accomplish with a bipartisan effort atvarious levels of government.

Jail costs would have been an easy one for the Republicans and Democrats to demagogue in hopes of scoring a few easy political points with voters. But, we didn’t. Instead, we all sat down and worked it out until a good plan was formulated. And, that’s a good diversion program!

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I was watching CNBC one day while I was working out.  I wanted to get their perspective on the next financial catastrophe that might befall us. CNBC tends a little toward the “alarmist” side of the spectrum. If you’re not aware of that, that’s probably because you avoid the cable news channels. Hats off to you, if that’s the case.

All the cable news networks tend toward alarmism, I think. Some are worse than others, some not so bad.  I think part of it is the blogosphere; some is just the intense 24 hours news cycle. You have to do something to sell the product, right?

Anyway, here’s CNBC discussing the Senate vote on the financial rescue package of early October 2008. On the show I was watching, one of the talking heads opines that the public sure seems angry about this and many of them, the public, that is, actually still favors the bill’s defeat.  This, in spite of the fact that the Dow was down about 500 points for the week! It seemed inconceivable to them. The people on “Main Street,” as they called it, were still pretty ticked off. They all put on their grimmest expressions and shook their heads in disbelief.

“Main Street,” one of the heads said dismissively, “I wish I could explain to them how stupid they actually are! Main Street,” he repeated, this time with a dash of contempt to compliment his dour expression.

The other heads nodded in agreement. Yes, those folks are pretty dumb, alright. That was the implication, anyway. And the implication was loud and clear.

One of the other heads, a woman, strikingly gorgeous, looked like she was all of about twenty three said, “I talked to a Congressman yesterday that said that a constituent called him and said if he voted for this bill, he lose that guy’s vote!

“So, I guess in this country,” She continued sagely, “if you vote to do the right thing, you lose your job!”

The other heads humphed and grimaced a little bit. They, again, nodded in agreement and looked very grim about the future of the Republic. Very grim indeed.

The entire exchange made me think about the polarization of the public versus the “powers-that-be” over this issue. The big financial bail out of 2008. Now, personally, I favored the bill.  I don’t like a lot of things about it, philosophically, but on balance it looks like it’s the solution with the least risk to the most people. And, no, I’m not talking about the Country Clubbers on Wall Street. I’m talking about the rest of us. The great middle class, here in what the CNBCrs would scornfully call “fly-over” land. But, I see the downside, too. A lot of it is pretty persuasive. But, on balance, the “rescue” seems well advised. I hope I’m right. What I do know is that the folks on the other side of the issue aren’t just of bunch country bumpkins, home schooled and out chopping wheat by hand with a scythe in their spare time.

I think the public can grasp all this. The theory advanced by the talking heads on CNBC that the public is, basically, just a bunch of imbeciles. This is not correct. And, it’s not just CNBC, either. I don’t want to single them out. I heard some “expert” on FOX decrying how dumb the American people were and how they’d better “grow a brain” real fast.

So what’s going on here? Many of us in the Republican Party can’t figure out Obama’s message. In fact, he looks, for all the evidence, like an empty suit. And maybe he is. He calls for “Change” whatever that is. Not even Obama can define it. And the people eat it up. Change. Just change, America. Why is that message so persuasive when the message can’t even be defined by anyone and the guy promulgating it has a public record so thin it couldn’t support a small bird? What’s going on?

I think the disconnect between heartland America and the political and media elites, which are clearly inbred, and Obama’s “change” message have a relationship.  I think the people that are paying the freight, the taxpayers, the small businesses, the volunteers and all the people that do the real work in the country are separating, in a big way, from the people that used to “speak for us.” Obama wants change? Well, so do all of us. We want the entertainment and informational media elites to quit treating us and talking to us like we’re freaking morons, for one thing.

We want our Congressmen and Senators that go to Washington with the best of intentions and some connection to the middle class, to quit graduating from their public service careers a quarter of century later as millionaires. We want our CEOs to be part of the companies they run, not just a hit and run-golden parachute artists. We’re not stupid.

People are mad. That’s true. But, it’s more than a bailout that has them mad. They’re upset that people that have Country Club memberships that are more expensive than one year’s wages for most of us, get to walk away from their incompetence (and probably keep the Country Club membership, too.)  When the rest of us screw up like this, we have the re-po man ringing our doorbell. Why is it, we ask, a different playing field for us?

But, it’s not just that. It having to do that and having some fat cat pundit tell us we’re stupid hicks if we don’t support their prolificate ways.

That’s, I think, the real disconnect. And, when Obama says “change,” even if it lacks definition and substance, the people say, “Amen, brother!” He’s hitting some right notes…and there’s a lot of folks that better pay attention!  Just change, America.

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