Here’s a familiar script: It all starts with some public agency wanting to solve a problem. They start holding meetings. Only a few hardcores show up, along with elected officials. Ultimately we, the media, decide it’s story-worthy. People start to hear about it, criticisms come out and citizens wonder why nobody ever held a meeting.
Yeah, this is why public officials get receding hairlines — they pull it out themselves.
But it’s a fact of civic life around here — an issue is only an issue when people start paying attention. You can complain that they should have been involved all along, but if you need public money, it’s moot. You need to play by the public’s rules, cockamamie as they may be.
This is happening again. People in the know have been discussing the need for a new jail for Spokane County for years. Joe Q. Public, however, may just be hearing about it. So it’s wise that our elected officials are taking their feet off the gas pedal to regroup.
There’s a big danger that an effort to make a big change can get permanently crippled by shifting rationales. Just look at North Idaho, where they still haven’t been able to pass a jail expansion bond after several tries. It’s important to work together and get this one right the first time. Here’s some free advice.
• Don’t locate the new jail on North Monroe. Why pick a fight with downtown boosters when you’ve already got an uphill battle? And putting a jail along the edge of what we hope will be an expanding commercial core doesn’t pass the common sense test.
• Pitch this as another example of regional cooperation (aka, better government), which it should be. Not being able to agree on a plan at this point (as seemed to happen last week) will not make this case.
• Tackle the root causes. If we just keep doing the same thing — build more jail cells, lock up more people, even if they’re just mentally ill — voters will feel poorly served. Maybe a package could include amped-up efforts to intervene in mental health cases earlier, or to create more drug court slots. Such programs save money. Of course there should always be room for violent offenders in our jails.
This is a lot harder than it looks. But it’s what our times call for — and what the people will require.