Juvenile center - Time for meeting of minds

Monday, January 6, 2003

The latest episode in "As the Juvenile Center Turns" stars a Cape Girardeau County presiding commissioner fuming over a consultant's report.

The show has been running for more than a year and features all the twists of any other daytime drama, although this one mostly plays out in the county's administrative building in Jackson.

To bring things up to date:

The county spent $275,000 two years ago for property on Progress Street in Cape Girardeau and planned to replace its Merriwether Street juvenile center by building a new juvenile center on that land.

An architect drew up plans for a $4.3 million center, and the county was on track to build it.

Then there was an election, and a county commissioner who favored the new center was replaced by one who had serious reservations. This upset the 2-1 vote in favor of a center to a 2-1 vote against.

Somewhere along the way, the $4.3 million cost of the new center started sounding too high. In September, the commission halted the project, citing budgetary concerns. Commissioners charged that the circuit judges and juvenile officials in the county wanted to spend $4.3 million for unnecessary bells and whistles.

Presiding Circuit Judge John Grimm and juvenile officer Randall Rhodes say that's not the case. "The size and scope are up for discussion," Grimm said last week.

But the battle lines were drawn, with two of the three commissioners insisting the existing center is fine and judges and juvenile officials insisting it's not.

The matter went to the Missouri Judicial Finance Commission, which took several months to determine how funding for juvenile operations in the 32nd Judicial District (covering Cape Girardeau, Bollinger and Perry counties) should be set up -- and then went on to say there was no convincing case made for a new center.

Not fair, the judges and juvenile officials said. The commission wasn't specifically asked to settle the issue of need.

So the commission contracted with a Chicago consultant, Huskey and Associates, for $61,000 to make a recommendation.

Bobbie Huskey released her preliminary report last week. It basically said the existing 28-year-old center is bad in every way, and she said the commission would be unwise to continue pouring money into an outdated building.

In a perfect world, consultants would exist to tell their employers what they need to know, not what they want to hear. But the fact remains that the consultant -- whose contract can't be undone -- is a needless expense.

Instead, the commissioners, judges and juvenile officials should meet and hash out two questions: Do we need a new juvenile center? If so, how much can we spend? This meeting should be open to the public to avoid the confusion about who said what in previous meetings on this topic.

It's time for the daytime drama that has absorbed so much time and energy to air its final episode.

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