City should consider cooperation

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Apparently, there's a problem with communication between the Red Willow County Jail Task Force and McCook city officials concerning the jail study.

At Tuesday night's meeting of the task force, members expressed concern that the city is not cooperating fully with the consultants doing the jail study, thereby seriously limiting the value of the needs assessment.

But city officials dispute this. Contacted this morning, City Manager John Bingham said a member of the city staff, Police Chief Ike Brown, is a member of the task force, and that the city will give the jail needs assessment full consideration when it is completed.

Therein lies the problem. The jail task force members want more than that. They want the city to become actively involved in providing information and discussing possible alternatives while the study is still in progress, not after it is completed.

Their main reason for this is that one of the possibilities is a public safety center where the jail, sheriff's office, police department and fire, ambulance and public safety agencies are co-located. That is why they are mystified by the city's lack of cooperation. "I read in the paper that one of the city's long-term goals was development of a public safety center," said Reuben Hoff Jr., chairman of the jail task force. "If that's the case, why don't they want to explore the options? To me, it makes more sense to work together than to work apart."

That's true. But, on the other hand, it is easy to understand the city's reluctance to get involved. Facing large outlays to pay for water and sewer improvements, the city is concerned about taking on responsibility for additional spending.

Yes, the city needs to be cautious. But, as community leaders, city officials must not ignore future possibilities.

It's been almost a year since Chairman Hoff of the jail task force last approached the council. It appears to be time for a return visit. Council members should be asked to instruct city officials to give the jail task force and the jail consultants full cooperation in gathering facts and figures. Council members should not bind the city to financial participation, but they should allow a full and fair evaluation of the public safety needs of Red Willow County and the City of McCook.

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