Letters to the Editor

The Corridor Business Journal received a number of letters to the editor regarding the proposed Johnson County Justice Center. A May 7 special election will take place on the issue (updated May 7).

To the Editor:


I have followed discussions about the proposed justice center and my concern is why so many people are focused on problems peripheral to the project.


There are many important services a justice center would offer, and those are being side-tracked.  Safety of the workers and anyone else entering our courthouse or jail is also of huge importance, but that seems not to matter to many citizens.


I formerly worked for the city of Atlanta as the director of human services before and during the 1996 Olympics. We also had decisions to make about a new jail and we were concerned about the very real threat of terrorism. Thus, we built a jail larger than our population indicated was necessary.


That also enabled us to provide services to a population in our city that this nation has ignored, and in fact has left to suffer on the streets in great peril. I refer to people with mental health problems, who are arrested and jailed due to behavior caused by lack of housing and access to medications they desperately need.


Even though Iowa City doesn’t have the extent of problems we faced in Atlanta, I believe any space in a new justice center that could be set aside to serve people with those needs would be incredibly helpful. We could provide them with appropriate care and give them the ability to live their lives independently at some point.


The longer we delay approving a new Justice Center, the longer it will be before these types of needs can be properly addressed.


Sue Ellen Crosslea, 1125 Kirkwood Court, Iowa City





Re:  Johnson County Justice Center


Last fall, I wrote about how our caseloads continue to grow in what is now the fifth most populous county in Iowa.  Since last fall, we have listened to the voters and have downsized our proposal by 48 jail beds and deferred two additional court rooms planned for immediate construction. The current proposal is now even more modest and practical then before.


Those that criticize this proposal miss some salient facts: (1) Judges do not consider jail or prison space when we decide whether or not to incarcerate someone. It is not legally relevant. (2) The Sixth Judicial District, which includes Johnson County, has among the lowest incarceration rates in Iowa. Existing alternative to incarceration programs are a large part of this. (3) The needs of Johnson County’s court system will continue to grow as its population increases. This growth has resulted in another magistrate position being transferred to Johnson County to address the growing case load. Sadly, we do not have the space in the Johnson County Courthouse to fully utilize that magistrate.


The challenges resolved by the proposed justice center will not go away if it is not approved.  They will just become more expensive to taxpayers and result in more delays for litigants. I ask you to support the justice center proposal.



Patrick R. Grady, Chief Judge, Sixth Judicial District

Linn County Courthouse

PO Box 5488

Cedar Rapids, Ia. 52406-0488




To the Editor:


A Justice Center bond referendum is on the ballot May 7 and it’s important that the citizens of Johnson County vote ‘yes’ and support this much needed building.


The current jail was built to house 46 inmates and expanded throughout the years to house 92 inmates. Today, the average daily jail population in 2012 was 156 inmates. Due to this overcrowding, the sheriff must house inmates outside of Johnson County and cannot provide needed jail alternatives due to a lack of space. This sends millions of our local tax dollars outside of Johnson County and puts a hardship on the families of those housed outside of Johnson County.


The courthouse was built over 111 years ago. The lack of courtroom space, proper handicap accessibility and the safety inadequacies has been a problem for years. As many residents learn about these conditions and inadequacies, they – like me – find it unacceptable and realize the need for a more efficient justice center.


We have an outstanding opportunity to address and fix both our space needs issues at the courthouse and the jail by voting ‘yes’ for the justice center. As our county population continues to grow, so will our needs for expanded jail alternatives which a new justice center will provide.

So let’s not just kick the can down the road on this very important issue. I hope you will join me in voting ‘yes’ on the justice center bond referendum.


Steve Dolezal, 3301 Rochester Ave, Iowa City




To the editor:


I believe that many in our community have the misperception that Johnson County tends to lock up more people than most other counties. In fact, we have one of the lowest incarceration rates in the nation. We’re also well below the national average in racial disparity, according to The Sentencing Project.


For a county population of our size, the national average is about 930 people incarcerated. Even if we look at the lower number of jail-only populations, the average would be about 313 people incarcerated. According to the 2012 Johnson County Sheriff’s Annual Report, our average incarceration rate was 145 in 2012.


Considering our growing county population and increasing national incarceration rates, why are we among the nation’s best?  Because we have numerous jail alternative and diversion programs as well as initiatives to reduce recidivism for those who are already in jail.


Despite our low incarceration rate, at times our demand is as high as 200. So, the wonderful programs we have to offer (in the jail facility and elsewhere in our community) are only accessible to 92 inmates – our current jail’s capacity. That’s a tragedy that puts our overflow at greater risk of recidivism.


A ‘no’ vote on May 7 will limit the positive impact of our diversion programs, limit inmate access to legal services, and continue to send inmates away from family.


On May 7, please vote ‘yes’ for the Justice Center.


Greg Johnson, P.O. Box 2717, Iowa City, IA 52244-2717



To the Editor:


When I decided to write a letter regarding the jail initiative I looked back to the letter I wrote on 9/30/04 to support Lonny Pulkrabek’s bid for the office of sheriff.  Here are excerpts from what I wrote almost nine years ago:


-Lonny has proposed new ideas for cutting down the population at the old county 52 man jail…there have been hundreds of thousands of dollars wasted transporting prisoners to other counties, paying for their housing there and enriching those counties.


-Surely it is time to try new approaches to save Johnson County tax dollars. Johnson County continues to grow and therefore, logically, the need for more space at the jail will also grow.  Whatever can be done to help lower the costs should be respected and utilized until the voters decide we need a larger and safer jail.


-Lonny Pulkrabek is a veteran of 19 years as a deputy in Johnson County and knows the problems that exist with the unsafe jail and courthouse. I have talked personally to people concerned about safety and the lack of privacy for lawyers and their clients. You have to sit on chairs in the halls and have constant interruptions and this interferes with attention to details which are crucial to a proper defense.


Back to the present, very little has changed. After all this time, it is really sad that people in such a progressive county have not seen fit to provide new facilities for the safety of the inmates, staff and the public and to ensure a prompt trial. The county attorney and the sheriff have collaborated to provide specific programs to reduce the population of the jail but it is impossible to correct all the limitations and problems within the current buildings.


Mary L. Larew, 1253 Dolen Place, Iowa City, Iowa  52246



To the Editor:


I’ve been a deputy at the Johnson County Sheriff’s office since 2001, and worked in the jail for over five years. I can tell you first-hand that the need for a new jail is critical.


I can also tell you that the vast majority of the current overcrowding is not due to drug offenses, victimless crimes and college students. What has increased is the number of violent offenders and probation/parole violators.


When the 2000 jail bond issue failed by a wide margin (25.5 percent), voters made it clear they had questions to be answered and alternatives to be pursued before approving a new jail. Since then, most of the questions have been answered and alternatives to incarceration have been implemented.  The revised project came within 4 percentage points of passing last November, and the current proposal contains even more revisions.


The work has been done. Alternatives are in place. Questions have been answered. Please vote yes on May 7.


Brad Kunkel, 419 Plum St., Solon





Johnson County desperately needs to upgrade the quality of our justice infrastructure.  We need a Justice Center that is safe, disability-accessible and secure on both sides of the judicial bench.  We do not have this now. We are one of the fastest growing counties in Iowa and one of the most politically progressive. But our 111-year-old historic courthouse and 30-year-old jail are no longer adequate.


Courthouse security needs include a secure entrance, which can separate inmates from general public, jurors, employees, judges and others.  We also need a second entrance/exit accessible for people with disabilities and a building compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act standards. We expect a modern automated sprinkler system that will also help improve safety.


Johnson County is well represented with forward looking officials such as Sherriff Lonny Pulkrabek and Attorney Janet Lyness and they have pointed out that our lack of space has impeded jail alternatives.  These programs are an essential aspect of the progressive quality of our justice system.  They are working well but plans for expansion and additional programs are currently limited for lack of space.


These behavioral health services for those in need of mental health, substance abuse treatment, and in-custody services are important parts of our county justice system.  They help reduce recidivism, expedite cases and lower the jail population. The county wants to add parenting classes and GED programs to the justice center, but without extra space, that’s impossible. County officials say the justice center also would offer more space for inmates to meet with attorneys and visitors, an inmate library and adequate medical and recreation facilities. Less inmate transportation would improve the quality of legal help for defendants.


There is no reason to delay these much need improvements. Interest rates are at an all-time low, building costs will only increase. Sooner rather than later we will have to upgrade our justice facilities. It is most cost effective to do this now, in addition to being an immediate and continuing benefit to our citizens.


We urge county voters to vote ‘yes’ on the May7 Justice Center Special Election (or better yet vote early; see the early voting schedule online at http://www.johnson-county.com/auditor/index.html, or call the Auditor’s Office at (319) 356-6004.


Written by the Executive Committee of the Johnson County Democratic Party:

Mike Carberry, Gerene Denning, Peter Hansen, Steven Damm, John Deeth, Karen Disbrow, Pete Ungaro, Dan Tallon, Katherine Valde, Diana Coberly, Dennis & Robin Roseman, Tom Larkin.


Johnson County Republican Party reaffirms opposition to Justice Center proposal

The Johnson County Republican Central Committee unanimously approved a reaffirmation of its position on the justice center vote scheduled for May 7. The statement released before the November general election vote is copied below.

“Other than a very small cost reduction, the May 7 proposal is virtually the same as last fall’s proposal. Similarly, our position has not changed,” stated Deborah Thornton, chair of the Johnson County Republicans. “Additionally, we are disappointed in the Board of Supervisors’ disregard for the will of the voters. The new jail was defeated this past November. Spending taxpayer dollars on a special election for essentially the same proposal just six months later is just wrong.”

The Republican Party of Johnson County urges that citizens exercise their right to vote and reject the county’s proposal on May 7. Then we can work together to make necessary improvements that are fiscally responsible and meet with the approval of the voters of Johnson County.

A resolution of the Johnson County Republican Central Committee:

Whereas, the current Johnson County Courthouse was designed in the 19th century and opened in 1901; and

Whereas, numerous deficiencies in the Johnson County Courthouse affect safety, security, and accessibility of jurors, courthouse workers, the courts, and the general public; and

Whereas, the current Johnson County Jail was built in 1981 for an inmate capacity of 46 (later modified as 92 inmates); and

Whereas, average daily census in the Johnson County Jail is now 160 to 190 inmates; and

Whereas, numerous deficiencies in the Johnson County Jail and having to transport overflow jail inmates outside Johnson County threaten staff, visitors and the general public;

Whereas, inadequate jail facilities require that Johnson County spend $1.3 million per year in outside counties in order to house Johnson County overflow jail inmates; and

Whereas, the proposed justice center is designed to solve current safety, security, and space needs of the sheriff, jail and court operations in a typical government high-price fashion;

Therefore, be it resolved that the Johnson County Republican Central Committee recommends:

1.      That the citizens of Johnson County vote ‘no’ on the proposed bond issue;

2.      That even before the vote on the bond issue, the Johnson County leaders investigate the results of other jurisdiction’s success (and failure) with issuing a Request for Proposals (RFP) to private firms like Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) for them to provide the needed facility at their cost with a contractual lease to Johnson County as their incentive. A properly worded RFP will result in a bid that will not need to be changed as the project goes along at steep penalty. This alternate course of action has the benefit of not putting the capital costs of the project on the backs of the taxpayers and the added benefit that the facility stays on the property tax rolls instead of being yet another governmental hole in the tax base.

As Mayor (Stephen) Goldsmith showed in Indianapolis, privatization and contracting out the provision of goods and services currently provided by government workers results in goods and services of equal or superior quality at about half the cost. The RFP should include daily penalties for missing the completion date and daily bonuses for finishing early as was used so successfully in the replacement of the earthquake damaged freeway in Los Angeles so that the new facility can come online more quickly than the current bond-issue proposal. The criminal courts, county attorney offices and secure jail high-rise facility should be sited on lower-cost land away from downtown where there will be plenty of free parking for employees, visitors to inmates, jurors, and others. The design should incorporate adequate foundations so that if future expansion is needed, additional floors can be added to the top of the structure without having to start over, as we have recently seen at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics;
3.      That the supervisors and/or Iowa General Assembly should direct the court personnel to work in shifts as the sheriff currently does so that a given number of courtrooms can accommodate more trials, at times which will be more convenient for citizens who must serve as jurors, witnesses, etc. rather than leaving high-cost facilities unused for more than two-thirds of the time. If current personnel are not willing to shift, the unemployment situation makes it possible to secure high-quality replacements (unemployment for recent law school graduates is as high as 40 percent in many law schools); and

4.      That a small addition to the back-door area of the current courthouse be constructed of materials that blend with the current building to provide space for security screening and ADA compliant access to the facility, which should be used solely for civil trials and ceremonial functions.
Jason Glass

Deputy Co-Chair, Johnson County Republican Party


A slightly biased analysis of the pros and cons of the proposed Justice Center


Is the proposed Johnson County Justice Center a monument to excess or exactly what we need?  Let’s start with what we can all agree on.

One-third of the project cost is for a new jail. The current jail is double-bunked with 92 beds and does not meet state minimum standards. Current inmate averages are north of 150 per day, with peaks near 200. Excess prisoners are farmed out to neighboring counties’ jails at a cost of over $1 million per year.

Even the Vote No contingent agrees that the current courthouse and jail are sadly outdated and undersized, and must be remodeled or supplemented.

I wish more people had attended the open forum hosted by the Vote No folks on April 23.  It reinforced my belief that we all have the county’s best interests at heart; we just differ in our solutions.

One of the presenters (referring to the other four presenters) acknowledged that “it’s obvious we are not all on the same page” regarding how to best address our current facilities’ shortcomings.  At another point he held up his hand with thumb and forefinger almost touching and said he was “this close” himself to voting for the proposal.

This points up the irreconcilable problem plaguing the Vote No bloc; there is no consensus on what to do if the bond issue fails. One faction will vote ‘no’ to anything that will raise property taxes, period. Another will vote ‘no’ to any proposal as long as minority contact/racial incarceration disparities exist and/or people continue to be arrested for victimless crimes.  Another wants a scaled-down facility located away from the old courthouse. Another wants a scaled-down facility attached to the old courthouse.

What are the chances that any proposal will please a 60 percent supermajority of them?

At some point, practical considerations must trump ideological concerns and I submit that we are already well past that point. That’s not to say that ideological concerns are unimportant.

Being on the Yes for Justice Committee has given me the opportunity to rub shoulders with the county attorney’s office, the sheriff’s office and many of the county employees that staff the current courthouse and jail. They are as concerned (if not more so) as any of us about reducing the number of people incarcerated for any reason, although most of those reasons cannot be influenced at the county level.

I can almost hear the scoffing of the conspiracy theorists who believe that Johnson County is a police state bent on arresting and jailing as many people as possible (particularly University of Iowa  students), and I find this distressing. They feel that our local elected officials and law enforcement agencies simply cannot be trusted to do the right thing. With all due respect, this feeling is, with very few exceptions, wrong.

One last point. If the bond issue on May 7 fails, that won’t be the end of it. It can’t be. Our current facilities fall far short of being able to accommodate even our existing needs, let alone our projected needs for the next 20 or 30 years.

The proposal would be back for another vote soon, probably with only minor changes (again) because the great majority of people who are the most knowledgeable about this issue are convinced that we are on the right track. It’s at least 60 percent of the rest of us who need to be similarly persuaded and that was very nearly achieved last November on a slightly more expensive proposal.

You probably recently learned that the county has been sitting on at least $1.5 million of deferred maintenance items in the jail and courthouse, expecting that something would have been approved by now. With no new facility on the horizon, those will need to be addressed.

I have no data to support this, but I honestly feel that more than a supermajority of people who have taken the time to inform themselves about the justice center (especially the revised plan) are in favor of it. But that’s not the same thing as prevailing at the polls.

Both sides have done all they can. If you live anywhere in Johnson County it’s now your turn. It would be a shame if another low turnout skews the outcome. It doesn’t matter which side you are on; please get out and vote.

Dave Parsons

103 S. Seventh Ave., Iowa City


Iowa City Area Crimestoppers votes ‘yes’ for justice

It has been known for some time that the Iowa City population is fast growing; however we all may have become complacent as to the generally law-abiding behavior of our community.

In 2007, the residents in a west Iowa City neighborhood were brought up short with a home invasion, burglary and violent sexual abuse. How could this happen in our safe little community?

Shortly thereafter, a group of concerned citizens formed a nonprofit group, Iowa City Area CrimeStoppers.  It is a partnership between the community, media and law enforcement, whose mission is to assist in bringing criminals to justice.

Citizens with knowledge of criminal activity may not want to directly provide information because they fear reprisal or are reluctant to get involved. CrimeStoppers’ provides the opportunity to anonymously report information and receive cash rewards of up to $1,000 if this information culminates in an arrest.

We recognize that there may be socioeconomic and racial disparity in our county, but this is an unfortunate national trend. The proposed justice center will go a long way in reversing this trend by providing behavioral health services for those in need of mental health or substance abuse treatment, more space for inmates to meet with family, visitors and attorneys, as well as a library and adequate medical and recreation facilities.

Placement of the jail facility adjacent to the courthouse allows safe transport from jail directly to court thus more efficient use of deputy time as well as privacy for inmates.

We are asking you to vote ‘yes’ on May 7 in order to create a justice center that provides a safe and secure facility for all of our citizens, whether they be inmates, police, employees, witnesses, jurors, judges or attorneys and provide accessibility to those with disabilities. These are all important considerations in our growing retirement community.

Dotti Maher

60 Marietta Ave., Iowa City


To the Editor:

You may have seen the headlines or the campaign signs and flyers around campus and Iowa City, telling us to cast our vote either for or against a new jail in Johnson County. As a citizen of Johnson County and a student at the University of Iowa, I decided to become informed about the issue on the ballot on May 7.

Why do we need a new jail, I thought? What I found was a proposal that went much deeper than more jail cells to lock up more students. The jail, which actually comprises only 34 percent of the entire project, really is more accurately described as a Justice Center.

It includes four additional courtrooms, enabling more timely and efficient processing of cases.  Johnson County currently transports inmates to other counties for incarceration (at a cost of more than $1 million per year) to make up for the lack of space in the current jail.

The arguments in opposition are many in number, but lack substantial supporting evidence. Seeing the need for a change in the current facilities, opponents are warping it into a tool to further other agendas. This improvement in the judicial facilities is reasonably planned to satisfy current and future needs of law enforcement in Johnson County.

Contrary to the naysayers’ contentions, the proposed Justice Center fills and will continue to fill a great need for Johnson County. I hope that need is satisfied on the ballot on May 7; I will be voting yes.

Peter Johnson

443 S. Johnson St., Iowa City


To the Editor:

I’m directing this letter to University of Iowa students; before you cast your vote regarding the Justice Center make sure you are basing your decision off of facts and not speculation or hearsay.

Despite what you may have heard, the current jail is not full of drunken students and people charged with simple marijuana possession. It’s not unusual on any given day for there to be zero inmates that fit this description. But please, don’t take my word for it. Johnson County provides an online jail roster that is available to the public at www.johnson-county.com. See for yourself.

The proposed justice center would also correct major safety, security and space deficiencies at our historic Johnson County Courthouse that endanger both students and the public.

Some of the most striking deficiencies include (1) entrances lacking even basic security checkpoints (2) no separate and secure entrance for deputies escorting criminal suspects (3) no way to separate inmates from students, general public, jurors, employees, and judges (4) hallways and back stairs so narrow they pose a serious threat in case of emergency (5) no automated sprinkler system, and (6) entrances not accessible for disabled persons.

The proposed justice center addresses all of these issues. As a student at the University of Iowa, I feel that fellow students utilizing the courthouse, whether for such things as university classes, traffic violations, voting, jury duty or appealing fines, need to be able to do so in a secure and safe environment.

Please vote yes on May 7 to support the Johnson County Justice Center.

Drew Lakin

443 s. Johnson St., Apt. 5, Iowa City


To the Editor:

The $43.5 million bond issue in the May 7 election is a public safety issue. It proposes a secure justice center combining the sheriff’s office, jail, and court-related offices, all attached to the existing Johnson County Courthouse.

Our historic county courthouse and county jail are outdated to the extent they represent a threat to public safety, security, access to justice, and the ability to provide services to meet the current needs, let alone future needs, of Johnson County citizens.

The courthouse also suffers from space issues that delays justice and increases costs in the judicial process. The courtrooms are too small and too few, private meeting rooms for mediation, lawyer-client conferences and multiple jury deliberations are lacking, and there’s insufficient space for persons and files in county attorney and clerk of court offices.

The Johnson County Jail, built in 1981, has totally different, but equally important set of concerns. Currently separated from the courthouse, it was built for an inmate capacity of 46, and then was later modified to accommodate 92. Yet the present average daily number of inmates ranges from 150 to 190.

That costs Johnson County taxpayers more than $1 million a year to house the overflow of inmates in other jails in other counties. The crowded conditions, daily movement of inmates to and from the jail, and other deficiencies all increase risk of potential harm to the public and law enforcement officers.

We should take advantage of financing this project at all-time low interest rates and not further delay establishing equity in our county-owned building rather than helping pay off another county’s debt.

This is the right time to do the right thing.

Jim McCarragher

2030 Forest Hill Trace, Coralville


Letter to the Editor:

The location of the proposed Justice Center (adjacent to the Historic Courthouse) has been labeled by some as poor choice, but I don’t see how this project would have anything but a positive impact on downtown Iowa City.  It’s no accident that most town squares in county seats were designed around courthouses.  They provide critical services that every resident needs sooner or later.

If a separate pretrial criminal detention facility was located in a less populated area of the county (as some have suggested), it would be much more difficult for families and legal representatives to visit those who are arrested, particularly if they depend on the public transit system for access.  Not to mention the transportation difficulties experienced by attorneys and judges who cannot avoid involvement in both civil and criminal matters, often on the same day.

Finally, I haven’t heard anyone argue yet that a jail which is completely separate from the Old Courthouse is the most efficient way for the County to operate.  It certainly is not, but they have other axes to grind.

I plan on voting yes on May 7.

LuAnn S. Reynolds

103 S. Seventh Ave., Iowa City


To the Editor:

For 13 years, I have been with Mediation Services of Eastern Iowa. We are a non-profit organization made up of volunteers and professionals who mediate small claims cases in Johnson and adjacent counties. Our job is to facilitate open dialogues between parties engaged in a conflict.

Over the years, our organization has helped many people resolve disputes, thereby freeing up court time for more serious cases. However, due to space constraints at the courthouse it has not always been easy to find a private space to work in. We have mediated in both hallways and break rooms when rooms were not available.

The issue of safety has also been a concern to us many times. Occasionally, there can be volatility between parties, which warrants a sheriff’s deputy to be present with us. It would be nice to know that while we are doing a service for the court system we ourselves are not in jeopardy.

We are very fortunate that a tragic accident has not occurred, thereby leaving people to ask why a better system had not been in place. At the current time, we all use the same entrances and exits, which have no security measures in place. Inmates brought in from outside also use these same entrances.

We need better facilities for handicapped and disabled people visiting our courthouse, too.  Our current design is not conducive to either handicapped individuals called for jury duty or there for legal purposes.

While the new justice center plan takes into account the future jail, we also need to remember that our neighbors who visit the courthouse deserve a safe and secure building in which to conduct business. We need to think about the future of our aging courthouse and make an investment for Johnson County now.

I urge you to vote yes in May for a better facility for Johnson County and its citizens.

Judy Atkins, 539 Stuart Court, Iowa City


To the Editor:

There are many reasons why citizens need to vote ‘yes’ on May 7 for a new Johnson County Justice Center. One of the most significant is how much it’s costing taxpayers not to act. Every day we wait to build a new justice center is another $2,700 of our money that flows out of the county.

The dramatic state of overcrowding in the Johnson County Jail requires us to pay other counties more than $1 million dollars per year to house the overflow of inmates. There is no room to expand the current facility, which means this problem will only continue to become more expensive and wasteful as our community grows.

Building a new justice center that includes both the jail and courthouse will also eliminate the need for transportation of inmates to and from their appointed court dates. There are much better uses for taxpayer money than paying sheriff’s deputies for the dozens of hours they spend escorting inmates to court as well as handling the logistics of transportation to other jails that have the space to house them.

The new justice center also reduces the inherent safety and liability risk of transporting inmates outside of a secure facility. Wouldn’t we rather our deputies be using their time to protect our public than being chauffeurs?

I, for one, would rather invest my tax dollars in a safe, secure and cost-effective justice center than continue to throw it away outside my community.  I plan to vote ‘yes’ for the justice center on May 7.

John Balmer, 10 Princeton Court, Iowa City


To the Editor:

On May 7, voters will decide the fate of the proposed Johnson County Justice Center. Voters deserve assurance that a ‘yes’ vote will result in a building that is both compatible with the historic courthouse and energy efficient.

Because the courthouse is on the National Register of Historic Places, the justice center will follow the guidelines set by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior for additions to historic buildings:

  • The character-defining features of the historic courthouse will not be radically changed, obscured, damaged, or destroyed.
  • The justice center will be clearly differentiated so that the addition does not appear to be part of the historic courthouse.
  • The justice center will be located at the rear or on an inconspicuous side of the historic courthouse.
  • The size and scale of the justice center will be limited in relationship to the historic courthouse.
  • The materials used on the exterior of the justice center will complement but, not mimic the courthouse materials.


The grand sandstone exterior of the courthouse with its ornate details is one of Johnson County’s treasures. Any attempt to copy or simulate the courthouse architecture on the new justice center would be cost-prohibitive and diminish the historic character of the courthouse.

Participation in the MidAmerican Commercial New Construction Program will provide design assistance to optimize the energy efficiency of the justice center. The program provides computer modeling to determine the most cost-effective design for the building envelope, HVAC systems, lighting and help the design team evaluate onsite renewable energy sources including solar, wind and geothermal. Other sustainable features to be included in the design are natural lighting, water conservation strategies, pre-consumer and post-consumer recycled construction materials, and heat recovery systems.

Locating the justice center next to the courthouse will minimize vehicular transportation for the sheriff’s office, the county attorney, judges and court support staff. The location is readily accessible to pedestrians, bicycles, and public transportation reducing the necessity for and environmental impact of automobiles.

The design of the justice center is still in the conceptual stage. The Johnson County Board of Supervisors and the design team are committed to an open, public design process allowing for ideas and input from the entire community. The justice center will be a sustainable building serving the citizens of Johnson County for generations to come.

Please vote ‘yes’ for Johnson County on May 7.

Dwight Dobberstein

Neumann Monson PC, 221 E. College St., Ste. 303, Iowa City


To the Editor:

The Johnson County Historic Courthouse was designed and built in the year 1899-1900 and dedicated in 1901. By 1900 standards this was a proud, modern building with electric lights, steam heating and large high-ceiling windows for ventilation.

Today, 113 years later, there is a new plan to update this antiquated building to provide for today’s much-needed technological needs in today’s times.

Additional courtrooms and client meeting areas cannot come fast enough, as part of a modern jail that will provide efficiencies and outreach programming. The courthouse, jail and Sheriff’s department need to operate effectively and closely together rather than down the street from one another!

It seems like cities and school districts are always remodeling or building new facilities, adding classrooms, sporting arenas and fire stations. It’s time for Johnson County residents to upgrade and build our Justice Center.

Vote ‘yes’ for Johnson County’s future!

Renee and Joe Hanrahan, 3320 Sandy Beach Road NE, Solon


To the Editor:

The proposed Johnson County courthouse enhancements and expansion of the jail need to be approved now. The thoughtful improvements will resolve long overdue security and legal system shortfalls in the courthouse and eliminate the costly shortage of jail capacity.

Johnson County residents cannot afford to postpone these needed improvements any longer. I don’t want to continue spending $1.3 million per year to house our criminals outside of Johnson County when we can use that money to eliminate that need. And these unnecessary costs will increase as our criminal population rises with our growing county.

Similarly, the critical improvements to our outdated courthouse judicial space will only escalate in cost if we don’t vote yes on this proposal. The well-designed improvements will greatly increase the efficiency of the court system operations and result in quicker legal resolution.

A particularly critical need is the security aspect of the courthouse improvements. Unfortunately, without the proposed weapons screening for judicial visitors it is only a matter of time before a tragedy occurs in Johnson County.

I urge my Johnson County residents to resolve these issues now. Join me in voting yes for the Justice Center on May 7. We can’t afford to wait any longer.

John Lundell, 403 Holiday Road, Coralville


To the Editor:

Please don’t let distractions and unrelated reasons stop you from getting out and supporting the Justice Center. The Justice Center is much more than just extra jail space. In fact, the jail portion of the proposal is only 34 percent of the entire project.

The Justice Center is about creating a safe and secure environment for our jurors, witnesses, victims and students who come to watch the proceedings for class. It is about making our services more accessible for those with disabilities. It is about creating safe work environments for the employees. It is about creating space to help speed up the legal process for those that need to litigate or mediate issues.

You can vote early right now at the Johnson County Auditor’s Office. I’ll be voting ‘yes’ on May 7.

Lonny Pulkrabek, Iowa City


To the Editor:

I have some issues with the way justice is dispensed in Johnson County. If I had my way, nobody would ever be arrested for petty, nonviolent, victimless crimes and the racial disparity incarceration issue would be analyzed and addressed. I’ll help move this agenda along any way I can.

But I’m not going to hold the proposed Justice Center hostage while I do it. Even the ‘no’ voters agree that our current facilities are grossly inadequate, but want to separate a larger jail from the other improvements. I was surprised to discover that the new jail itself comprises only about one-third of the total project cost, most of which is going towards expanded courtroom space, offices, site work and parking.

Perversely, the fate of the Justice Center is now in the hands of the people who are arguably the least familiar with it and least directly affected by it; that would be us, the great unwashed law-abiding masses. But it’s our money, so thankfully we have a say in this great country of ours.

Who would be punished by a ‘no’ vote? The people who are directly impacted by our sadly outdated facilities are the ones being arrested, their families and the ones tasked with processing and storing them. Not to mention you and I, who are footing the over $1 million per year bill to pay neighboring counties for overflow services.

That’s why this is such a tough sell. The vote ‘yes’ folks need to convince at least 60 percent of the voting public to voluntarily increase their taxes to support an infrastructure project that is practically invisible to them. A more expensive version failed approval by only a few percentage points last November, and the vote ‘yes’ camp hopes to do a better job getting the word out this time around.

There is no room in an article of this length to address all of the issues raised by the ‘no’ voters. They are throwing a lot of things against the wall in the hopes that some of it will stick, and having some success.

Check out their web site at www.votenojusticecenter.org. I actually agree with some of their concerns, but also found myself asking, “how is voting down this project going to address this particular problem?” Most of the questions they raise are answered on the vote ‘yes’ site at www.jcjusticecenter.com.

Some “no’ voters are afraid that if the overcrowding issue at the jail is addressed, their efforts to reduce the arrest rate in Johnson County will lose traction because the shoe no longer pinches. Even if there was some truth to that, I don’t see the current trends changing any time soon.

For those of you who wonder who is – or recently was – in our jail (or overflow jails), visit www.johnson-county.com and click on the jail inmate roster. It’s updated daily and includes names, ages and alleged violations (most have not appeared in court yet). It may surprise you.

A veritable Who’s Who of community leaders support the Justice Center (see the website), which some ‘no’ voters are trying to portray as a conspiracy perpetrated on a gullible electorate by the social and political elite.

A friend of mine – an attorney, oddly enough – adamantly refuses to voluntarily give any more money to what he calls the Johnson County Industrial Military Complex to help it perpetuate its policy of systematically incarcerating individuals for petty, nonviolent, victimless “crimes.” I can respect his principled (if Quixotic) stand, but he was somehow unswayed by my references to babies and bathwater.

Cutting to the chase, what’s this all going to cost me? My own house is assessed at just under the median home sales price in Johnson County (about $200,000), which means I can expect to pay an extra $45 per year in property taxes if the bond issue is approved.

If it fails again, we can continue our time-honored policy of slapping on overpriced Band-Aid after Band-Aid, which (surprise) is how we got to where we are now. See for yourself – there are free public tours of the jail every Monday at 4 p.m. until Election Day.

I wish we didn’t arrest so many people for dumb stuff. I wish we didn’t appear to incarcerate minorities disproportionally. I wish Guinness Stout didn’t have so many calories.  Unfortunately, none of my wishes will be any closer to coming true by voting against the Justice Center. Please vote ‘yes’ for justice on May 7.

Dave Parsons, 103 S. Seventh Ave., Iowa City