Picture a $300,000 luxury home, with three-car garage, security fencing, deluxe intercom system, cable TV, whirlpool tubs, maybe a swimming pool in the backyard. Now picture a 7-foot-by-11-foot cell with a cot and toilet. The Scott County Board of Supervisors thinks they cost about the same. They don't.

Last week, the supervisors passed a plan to add five new beds in our juvenile-detention center that would cost taxpayers nearly $1.5 million, or $300,000 each. This bloated plan is dripping with fat and should have been sent back to the drawing board immediately. Instead, supervisors gave us the same old "we know best" line without ever actually justifying this ridiculously expensive plan.

At an 8 a.m. meeting that even the board chairperson could not locate for the first hour, supervisors listened to their own staff present an out-of-state architect's proposal. The 2,500-square-foot project is padded with an additional 1,500 square feet not represented on the scaled drawings accompanying the proposal. At the only two meetings held, questions addressed to the supervisors on the drawings, the merits of this plan, or possible alternatives were dismissed or went unanswered.

No one doubts the need for some increase in capacity for juvenile detention. Those detained are young people confined for short periods of time in the hope that they will get a "wake-up call" from their experience. They require mostly supervision, not the hard lock-up used for convicted adults. The program operates under the Department of Human Services, not the Department of Corrections.

A majority of supervisors seem unwilling or incapable of discussing public policy in public. When challenged to justify costs two and one-half times their own adopted budget, they do not answer or simply answer, "We know best."

It's too bad the majority of supervisors didn't get the message from the last jail referendum. The public knows best: $300,000 per bed is far too much.

Karl J. Rhomberg
Davenport, Iowa

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