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Time for some transparency in local policitics

In the Thursday, Aug. 13, edition of the Daily Mining Gazette, the paper ran an article citing Commissioner Mr. Roy Britz stating, “Discussions had been on hold pending the results of the August Primary election for Sheriff, as one of the candidates opposed building a new jail, Commissioner Roy Britz said.”

I am assuming I am that candidate.

I’m a nice guy, but not that nice. Perhaps I read this article on the wrong day, however here is my interpretation of that statement: “In regards to Sheriff McLean not being transparent about his/my plans for a new jail – I am going to turn Steve Laux into the scapegoat for Mr. McLean’s omission.”

Was this new jail plan being staved off until after the Primary Election discussion ever recorded in any meeting minutes?

Mr. Britz and I never spoke about the campaign or any matters relating to a new jail. I never spoke to any of the commissioners or jail task force members. None of them ever reached out to me. If Mr. Britz gleaned this information from the Gazette article on July 30 covering the Republican debate two days prior – that still would not make sense; “Let’s hold off on the new jail plans – for 1 week?”

In the article covering the debate, the DMG writer cited my response, stating; “Laux said he is against a new jail, which he said is infeasible in the current economic state.”

Those are not my words.

My response to that question throughout was, I was not running for sheriff to be a salesman for a new jail. I also said in the current economic climate I did not believe a vote on a new jail would pass at this time. I acknowledged there are security risks and the technology of the jail is outdated. I also said we would do the best with the resources at hand and make improvements on our current infrastructure, such as building an interconnect between the courthouse and jail and doing modern upgrades to some of issues that are outdated. I also emphasized we are currently housing and / or reserving no fewer than eight beds between the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community and the Keweenaw County Sheriff’s Department. (I have since been told the number is six for KBIC and four for Keweenaw.) I advised the number I have been told was $75,000 paid annually to the Sheriff’s Department by the KBIC for those beds, whether the inmates are in them or not.

I also broached the subject of the court house; it is a historic site, and although I am sentimental, I’m not resistant to change, but what do we do with it if a new jail was built off-site? I mentioned the best option seemed to be the previous high school lot, however after the selling of half of that parcel and the building of apartments by a local developer, that doesn’t seem feasible, unless of course the structure is moved or one of the adjacent streets was blocked off to build a new jail or an addition to the current one.

My views and opinions on this are reflective of past ballot initiatives and my law enforcement career, and living and working with Houghton County constituents for most of my lifetime. Overwhelmingly, the people I have spoken to over the past twenty five years or so, up to and including today, are not for a new jail. Not now, especially considering our current economic times.

One need only view the full debate on the Copper Country Republican Page to view and hear what I said, and possibly more importantly, what Sheriff McLean didn’t say. What Brian McLean said, to my memory, was ‘wherever the courthouse is, is where I believe the jail should be’.

I thought at the time the statement seemed odd. The courthouse is where it has been for well over 100 years, East Houghton Avenue.

This sounded like a play on words to me, and in my opinion, it was. Sheriff McLean knew full well what the current plan is; Why didn’t he share that at the debate and with the constituents? It should have been a positive talking point for him, but he never mentioned it and instead deflected the question, saying it should be built where ever the court house is…

How can we be claiming lack of space and declaring states of emergency for an overcrowded jail when 10 of 28 beds may be filled with inmates that aren’t even our own?

Now, if we step back and take a long look at the picture, sentimental feelings aside…The court house is gorgeous, we love seeing it on the skyline. The architecture will never be replicated. But it is outdated, really outdated. It is confusing trying to navigate around the building if you’re not familiar with it. Offices are congested and the District Court room is far too small. The interior flow is a security nightmare, especially if something tragic were to happen. Should we build a new court house / addition when the time is right? My opinion, yes.

Taking the same view on the jail. Without even going through the list very far; impossible to adequately house juveniles, security risk to and from court, antiquated technologies, improper infrastructure to care for mentally ill who may find themselves in the criminal justice system, and on and on. Is there a need for a new jail / addition? Yes. Should one be built sometime in the future? Yes.

Pretty straight forward, pretty transparent, however transparency doesn’t seem common these days.

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