Jail opponent hires law firm

Monday, April 9, 2012

McCOOK, Nebraska -- A McCook, Nebraska, man has hired a legal firm to validate his and others' arguments against the new county law enforcement center proposed to be built north of the Red Willow County courthouse in downtown McCook.

Gene O. Morris said this morning, following a meeting of the county commissioners, that he has hired David J. Bargen of Rembolt Ludtke L.L.T. of Lincoln. Morris told commissioners that his goal is to take the issue "to a vote of the people. It's the right of the people to decide a matter of this magnitude."

Morris said, following the commissioners' meeting, that he himself -- not an organized group -- has written a check to retain Bargen's law firm.

Morris said he is awaiting advice from Bargen before stating specifically his case and his arguments against the proposed law enforcement center.

Morris said at the commissioners' meeting that he knows state law allows Red Willow County commissioners to make the decision to build a jail without a vote of the people. "However, ultimately, the people are responsible through their pocketbooks," Morris said.

He said, after the meeting, that he does not want this decision on the heads of three people -- commissioners Earl McNutt, Steve Downer and Vesta Dack -- but on the heads of 12,000 county residents.

Morris is part of a group, led by McCook-area farmer Dale Dueland, which is opposed to the commissioners' motion to build a 24-36 bed jail and sheriff's office facility on three lots north of the courthouse -- across the street south of a house designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

Dueland contends that the county needs to build on a location that would allow jail bed numbers and/or expansion sufficient so that the county can contract with the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services -- faced with prisoner overcrowding in facilities in eastern Nebraska -- to house state prisoners. Locating the jail near the state's existing work ethic camp in McCook would allow the county to cooperate also on WEC offenders, inmates and parolees, Dueland has said.

Dueland said he also foresees the possibility of Red Willow County's jail becoming a regional -- even multi-state -- jail.

Commission chairman Earl McNutt said that through a conversation he had last week with Bob Houston, director of the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services, he knows that the state will not contract with a county to build a jail, nor will the state contract for jail bed space with a county so far from the Lincoln and Omaha areas. "They want to cut transportation costs too, and they don't want to haul prisoners way out here," McNutt said.

McNutt said that he and fellow commissioners, professional jail study consultants and members of the county's jail study committees have not operated on speculation as they developed their proposals to build a jail and where to build it.

McNutt told Dueland and Morris, "I still feel this board is being realistic. What we're proposing is more than sufficient for years to come. Realistically, we are looking at the big picture. (This proposal) will be sufficient to handle our needs for many years."

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