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Dearth of leadership

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

It is interesting to sit back and watch the leaders of McCook wrestle with the people's priorities. The McCook Police Department's intention to move into a new public safety center and leave their jail (yeah I know it's a 48 hour holding facility) comes immediately to mind.

Yes, Red Willow County has no jail and yet is charged by state statute with holding prisoners at the pleasure of the local courts. That need has been answered by renting jail beds from the city and neighboring counties; more economical for Red Willow County taxpayers and enabling Hitchcock County, for instance, to maintain a 24/7 dispatch capability. At present the McCook Police Department owns the county wide dispatch facility manned 24/7 and whose dispatchers are double trained to watch the local prisoners. Red Willow County pays for the jail service as well as a share of the dispatch. It is a deal that seems to work out well with least burden to taxpayers.

Now with the move of the police department to the "hoped for" new facility how is the local "perp holding for society's safety sake" to be done? Will the county take over the old city jail facility and man it 24/7 and rent dispatch too? Extra tax money involved with that option!

Will the city police, who claim future efficiencies, reduce personnel to offset construction costs? Will the new city building create greater efficiencies that will enable reduction of personnel in the city offices? McCook Fire Department, more efficient, fewer personnel needed? How would you the taxpayer bet on the answers to those questions?

Where is the leadership that would sit all players down and make them play together?

At one of the public rallies to sell the new combined City Municipal/Safety Center I asked our mayor if possibly the expense of the building could be delayed until the latest school construction bond is paid off. His answer was instructive, "No because by that date it will be time to rebuild the high school buildings." In other words it is the intention of the schools faction to levy as much tax as allowed for normal operation and then borrow to build new/refurbish facilities. City and county (the other property tax consumers) be damned!

Where is the leadership that would sit all players down and make them play together?

It is not a new problem; McCook has done business that way for years. McCook's original pilots flew off the area that is in part today's Cibola baseball/softball complex. When that got too confining and before the building of the McCook Army Airbase, a City Council member just happened to have a nice section of ground just east of the city where the Senator Ben Nelson Regional Municipal Airport is located today. The city purchased the ground and made a few improvements but as late as 1953, when I learned to fly there, all runways and the parking ramp were still grass, not a bit of concrete to be seen.

At the end of World War II, the Army gave the entire McCook Army Airbase complex to the City of McCook, long paved runways, streets and buildings, sewer and water, it was all there. Mr. City Council member who had sold the "new airport" to the city was still in action, and persuaded the city to give the Airbase away. Later, another council bought the now-deteriorated Airbase back for a water field and another council sold it once again. Not a good deal that either.

Better heads prevailed in both Kearney and Grand Island which kept their Army Airbases and both are today active airports and thriving industrial parks. The leadership there evidently had a better eye toward the future and made the diverse interests in each location play together much better than we did here.

The list goes on. The access street leading to Countryside Estates is in a wrong location with neither the county nor the city required to maintain it. Why is there no access to the east leading from the Reservation to the hospital? Why is there no street leaving the Reservation to the north and west? What leader did the planning on that one? Who represents McCook's interests on the present water issue conflicts with the Natural Resources Districts?

We used to have a local municipal waste disposal facility that was a money- maker. Then a council refused to make required upgrades. The state called their bluff and closed it! The present expensive long-haul system we have today came into being.

The city is required to adopt a plan for one year and five years into the future for city streets. The county does the same for county roads. Yet I am unaware of any long term plan for our City/ County/Schools. Which way do we grow, whom do we annex and when, how to solve the jail problem, replace and upgrade the sewer and water systems, build new schools, new fire station(s), upgraded municipal building and the list goes on. The alternative is to continue to grow like Topsy, just as we have done for years.

The answer? I think that we would be better represented by an elected mayor and use a paid city administrator rather than a mayor chosen by a council elected at large and then voted upon by the council.

In my experience city managers tend to have short-range goals in mind that make their resumé look good for the next job. It is my opinion that a local person elected to a position of power as a mayor and who intends to live and die in the best city he can make possible would tend to make better decisions.

Meanwhile it is the responsibility of "we the people" to make the decisions to keep our beloved city viable into the future. I firmly believe that people can and will make good decisions if they can just get good unbiased information to make those judgments.

Judgments that "we the people" are willing to pay for to make our community the best place in the world to live.

That is the way I saw it.

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I agree with Mr. Trail that the area may have had a leadership problem in the past, like when he was a county commissioner and city council member.

-- Posted by dennis on Tue, Oct 26, 2010, at 2:12 PM

From what I've gathered, the County has been given the opportunity to use the existing holding cells. Little to no upgrades will be required to use those holding cells for 96 hours or less. The building itself is in need of repair but we all know that already.

The county DOES rent rooms from the jail in Hitchcock County.... Ready for this?......From what I understand we rent 20 rooms whether they are used or not. The average monthly occupation from Red Willow County at Hitchcock County is 7.5 prisoners.... 12.5 rooms (on average) are paid for and unused. Red Willow's annual rental agreement is somewhere in the $300,000.00.

I'm here to ask, WHAT IF it County used the existing holding cells for the majority of prisoners which ARE "96 hours or less" and NOT make the $300,000.00 annual payment and rent on demand at Hitchcock County if we have longer term prisoners. The local costs would be more than we are paying currently but I assure you it wouldn't be $300,000.00 more to train 2 jailors and have the local cells in use.

Yes, there would be a maintenance issue, things needed to be done to the facility but if it is JUST used as a holding cell facility rather than a Sheriff's Office, then a total revamp wouldn't be needed.

The County has been contacted about this but they haven't truly responded which leads me to believe that they simply DON'T want to change things up. There isn't much County concern expressed in the media in relation to the jail situation anyway.

As far as using the Former Air Base as a viable airport for McCook....... Come on, maybe it shouldn't have changed hands as much as it did but that was done over several administrations and if you look at Kearney and Grand Island's Airport, how much of that MONEY SAVING free property still exists? Not so much as a wind sock. AND the last time I went to the Kearney airport, I don't think I traveled 15 miles out in the county to check in.

Who's crystal ball do we use to see what direction we need to expand. Sure expectations should be formed for expansion but a northerly road out of the residential area that would further become a City responsibility so people could take a paved road up to what? a gravel county road? The more important note would be a connecting road from the reservation to 11th street for emergencies to the hospital but that canyon would have to become an emergency route increasing the costs once again and unless it travels to the Hospital as the crow flies, the distance across and down would be nearly the same distance as from the reservation to H street and across to the Hospital. I'm not convinced that clearing ice and snow from an emergency route in a hilly area is the best use of resources. Sure it would be more convenient.... Maybe not as much as driving 15 miles to the airport but I can see the convenience of it.

You mention "failing to make required upgrades" in regard to the municipal waste disposal facility, and at the same time scoff at the proposed ERC facility. What do you suppose upgrading means?

Dearth of leadership? It isn't a lack of leadership, but rather an abundance of past issues that need to be wrestled to the ground before we can proceed. I say that there are priority issues such as infrastructure, schools and public facilities that need to be buttoned up before we open up our resources on another issue such as a convenient road out of the N/E corner of town.

I feel we are proceeding down a progressive route and if given the opportunity and time we will see a change for the better here. I do have to say though, I have been to a lot different towns and I feel quite comfortable saying that McCook is a Good Looking City. The streets are clean and the businesses do a fine job on the maintenance of their buildings as do most of the folks that reside here and in the area.

With progressive ideas at work, imagine the possibilities.

-- Posted by PensiveObserver on Tue, Oct 26, 2010, at 2:31 PM

The type of leadership that requires both sides to sit down and work this out did not prevail. It takes more than a phone call to get results and I don't know if it's because both sides were just too stubborn or too lazy but they never really sat down and tried to work something out on this proposal.

Now, it's up to the county taxpayers (of which, McCook taxpayers are inherent in that group and make up the largest portion as well) to pay for the loss of a local holding facility with the additional cost of transportation and the increased safety risk which accompanies it. When our leaders say, "not my problem" it is not a solution, it's an excuse. A lot of work would have been required but that's part of the job, take it or leave it but don't half--- it.

-- Posted by McCook1 on Tue, Oct 26, 2010, at 4:52 PM

Pensive, where do you get that it would only take two staff members to man a county jail 24-7. I figure it would take at least 168 hrs per week divided by a 40 hr work week or 4.2 employees. That's not accounting for time off, and I'm not sure that the jail can be staffed with only one jailer at a time , jail standards may require that there be more than one person on duty at any given time. Add upkeep and other costs of operating a jail and $300,000 per year looks like a bargain.

-- Posted by Linda1547 on Tue, Oct 26, 2010, at 5:42 PM

The City has offered the holding cell facility to the County multiple times.... Are they required to beg them to take it, and if they don't accept it, quit moving forward? With that mind-set where would the World be? There are plenty of people that won't move forward (even if it's in their best interest) Sooooo, then what? Everyone just puts their plans on hold until all factions are on the same page?

Right now the world is heaping with people that don't want to help themselves and we're running out of people to provide for them. Sometimes you have to take advantage of a situation.... (low construction cost due to supply and demand, record low interest rates and sale tax provided funding.

You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it use a facility that's available to it.

By the way, my above posted comment WASN'T speculation..... because the County already pays for beds in Hitchcock County, they use it rather than holding prisoners in McCook. Why pay for the services twice right? If they don't really use the current facility to its fullest potential (any prisoner held for less than 96 hours) then who's responsible for the transportation expenses?

-- Posted by PensiveObserver on Tue, Oct 26, 2010, at 5:59 PM


I don't want to speak out of turn on this but I believe the requirements for jail facilities is 2 "Jailors" sure there are other people involved, not necessarily NEW EMPLOYEES, the Jailor won't be working alone but I think that there's 24 hr staff at the Sheriff's Department now is there not? If I am wrong and a whole new staff is required I apologize and $300,000.00 may well be a bargain. But that's where we are right now so how do we realize an increase?

The expenses involved with training Jailors is a two week course so there is a bit of upfront costs I guess.

I gathered most of my information from the Police Station when I decided to research the actual costs that the County might encounter. They are very knowledgeable down there, that's who provides the County with Jailors now. (I obtained the inside scoop, I'm sure a visit during the next County Commissioner's meeting would either validate of discount that info. I didn't have time to check with them when I was researching.)

-- Posted by PensiveObserver on Tue, Oct 26, 2010, at 6:15 PM

Good ole Dick. If my memory serves me correctly, YOU have served as both a city council man and as a county commissioner. Now, back in YOUR day please tell me what YOU did to solve the issue of the public safety center and jailing of prisoners. YOU were in a position to address these issues. Now YOU take it upon yourself to point fingers and blame past leadership that, by the way, YOU were a part of. It is because of the past leadership, or lack of, that McCook is facing the issues its facing today. A jail that the county has always been responsible for and pawned off on the city until YOU could build a jail. A public safety center that was converted from an old wore out warehouse that should have been replaced years ago that YOU did nothing to address. Now, McCook seems to have a very good and forward thinking city manager, a very qualified and forward thinking city council and an excellent group of city employees and leadership that are still working out of buildings that are as ancient as the hills! And YOU are opposed to the new facility and the county doing their job. YOU are doing an injustice to the city of McCook by being opposed to the very problem YOU created several years ago by serving and not taking care of business when it should have been taken care of. Shame on YOU Dick.

-- Posted by McCook Supporter on Tue, Oct 26, 2010, at 9:12 PM

Wow, Dick..... Did you forget you were on the City Council and Board of Commissioners when you wrote this? Im not sure your comment came across the way you meant it to maybe.

-- Posted by Nick Mercy on Tue, Oct 26, 2010, at 9:29 PM

Boy oh boy, Mr. Dick you done stepped in it,on this one!

As everyone has reminded you, you were in a "leadership" roll on both the county commissioner board, and the McCook City council, and yet you complain about what was and wasn't done in the past? You are the past, and that is the problem, the bury your head in the sand syndrome, and hope the problems go away is what got us into this mess.

The combo deal from 2006 was never meant to be, everyone of the boys in the "head sheds", all wanted their own Taj Mahal, the voters saw right through that one, and did not support it.

As far as the jail goes, too bad the county commissioners can't get over the city telling them to take a hike on the 1/4% of the sales tax that they wanted. Now they seem to have the stick your head in the sand syndrome too, ignore it and hope it goes away. Maybe Vesta will shake things up a little!

By the way, "nuff said" and all the other rat holers, the county has been rat holing money for a new jail for years, just in case you have forgotten, so when the county wants to do something about a jail you won't be falsely accusing them of "rat holing" the money without telling the taxpayers. (Like they tried to do with the present city council, but were set straight by Mr. Reitz.)

Hopefully the voters will do the right thing and support this "hoped for" facility.

Also in the past few years the superintendents and school boards have finally addressed the problems of years of no action with the school facilities.

After years of penny pinching by our former "so called leaders" it is now forcing the present leaders and tax payers into difficult decisions.

Time for the voters/taxpayers of the city of McCook to support this project, to look forward and stop looking backward.

-- Posted by goarmy67 on Tue, Oct 26, 2010, at 11:43 PM

One more thing, for some reason we can't comment on the letters in Monday's Gazette.

Just wanted to comment on one of the letters. What a great letter by Lana Stewart!!

-- Posted by goarmy67 on Tue, Oct 26, 2010, at 11:47 PM

I think the answer to the question "Who will lead us?" can be found in the comments to this column.

-- Posted by Virginia B Trail on Wed, Oct 27, 2010, at 11:48 AM

First of all, I am voting for the new city facillity. I would also support a county jail if it were on the ballot. This town finally seems to be moving forward a little and it is nice to see. I hope it continues. I think the current mayor/council/city manager are doing a good job and the voices of the disgruntled are fewer than those of us who are able to see past the ends of our noses and look to the future of this community. The others just like stirring us up.

"Nuff said" and "That is the way I saw it" should get together and start their own talk show titled "Grumpy Old Men."

-- Posted by bntheredunthat on Wed, Oct 27, 2010, at 12:50 PM

Anyone (Dick Perhaps) know what the largest aircraft McCook can handle is?

Seems like it should be able to handle at least Bombardier CRJ-200 (50 passengers)

-- Posted by npwinder on Wed, Oct 27, 2010, at 5:37 PM

Wondering 70, you can post on any opinion letter, go to the top of this page and on the bar, click 'OPINION' bar, select the letter and comment

-- Posted by Ladyg on Sun, Oct 31, 2010, at 12:03 PM

npwinder, when they built the longer runways back in the late 60's or early 70's, "they claimed" that 737's could now land in McCook, if Frontier replaced the Convair 580's with jets.

Can't remember who the "they", was but had to chuckle just a little when the 580's were replaced with the puddle jumpers.

First plane ride ever, on one of the 580's on the way to basic training..........nuff said about that start of a great(?) adventure.

Thanks for the info Ladyg.

-- Posted by goarmy67 on Mon, Nov 1, 2010, at 5:30 PM

I like Aaron Kircher, He shows great leadership in the community! Every other community state wide wish for a non "Gray Haired" city council. I feel we have a great blend of council members, that deserves much more respect then they get!

-- Posted by youngneighbor on Tue, Nov 2, 2010, at 12:07 AM

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Dick Trail
The Way I Saw It