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So if you haven’t heard by now, the long and winding road towards construction of a new county jail has taken yet another detour. In a session last week, opposing sides on the county board finally found some common ground and agreed to pay the Minneapolis firm VirtuaTech $187,000 to prepare virtual tours of each of the remaining site plans. Richard Gordon, VirtuaTech’s Development Coordinator, said his firm plans to get to work immediately. “These virtual tours will allow the county board, the city council, and the general public to tour the planned grounds and facilities and make a more informed decision regarding the placement of the future jail.” While this is obviously not true (happy April Fool’s), would many of you really be surprised if it was? By now the debate regarding placement of new jail and justice center has become a joke in itself.

With the April 6 elections and referendum only days away, the opposing sides remain as divided as ever. Just last month two more organizations, MAJEC (Movement for Affordable Jail in Eau Claire) and CARC (Citizens Advisory Referendum Committee) formed to promote their opposing viewpoints. And let’s not forget about CAJE (Citizens For Accountable Jail Expansion), who will be ready with another protest petition if the county board once again chooses to recommend the downtown site. While I’m the first to commend community involvement, I must say that each group could use a little help with their acronym-building skills.

It’s great to see community members take action and get involved in decisions, but it seems the only thing these groups are doing is shouting each other down without listening to the opposing side’s viewpoint. Unfortunately, the upcoming referendum is non-binding and no matter what the public ultimately decides, the factions will likely plow ahead with their own agendas. Both sides are correct in saying that future placement of the jail is a decision that will affect our community for years, but that’s exactly why both sides should respect the community’s vote and proceed accordingly.

This debate has been going on for years and reached the level of ridiculousness. From the beginning both sides have refused to work together, and as divided as they are, it’s obvious that one is not going to be happy with the outcome, but eventually a decision needs to be made. I am personally guilty of flip-flopping on this issue. I initially opposed the downtown site because I didn’t believe other options had been properly considered, but now faced with the three remaining sites: River Prairie, Highway 93/94, and the current downtown location, I believe keeping the jail downtown is the right decision