Time for a clearer message

Voters like to pride themselves on sending messages through the ballot box and, most of the time, such messages are easily received and understood. Just ask Todd Akin or Anthony Weiner.

But when voters send murky or mixed messages, prevailing voters have the added responsibility of clearly articulating their wishes.

This needs to happen in Johnson County.

In the fall of 2012, the spring of 2013 and now, again, in the most recent general election, a majority of Johnson County voters have told officials to go ahead with plans related to the historic courthouse. Officials have twice had a majority say a new jail and courthouse addition should be constructed. On Tuesday, an even larger majority gave their blessing to a sole courthouse annex.

The path forward should be clear, but it isn’t.

A simple majority isn’t enough, according to Iowa law, and county officials must now look 57 percent of their constituents in the eye and shrug. They will, no doubt, be forced to break out duct tape as they further patch and stretch a 113-year-old building to make it conform to the needs of a population its designers never imagined.

Clinton Street Music Buildings for the University of Iowa and the Johnson County Courthouse, photographed in May 2013.
Clinton Street Music Buildings for the University of Iowa and the Johnson County Courthouse, photographed in May 2013. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

County residents hoping to have their civil case not involving children heard quickly, might want to start shopping for property in neighboring jurisdictions.

County attorneys hoping to keep bad guys and gals off the streets will need to continue to work from space originally intended as a closet. May knowledge that Superman started his work day in a phone booth comfort them.

Despite pushes to digitize records, county residents will soon open their collective wallet for storage space and/or workers to scan archives.

Victims of sexual assault or domestic abuse will need to continue to be prepared for face-to-face meetings with their attackers — not in the courtroom where defendants are supposed to confront their accusers, but in the corridor, before a judge has gaveled everyone to order.

Families celebrating adoptions will continue to have their special day soiled by unexpected run-ins with folks in orange jumpsuits and shackles.

The “cattle call” for jury duty will continue to result in several hours of standing on stairwells, which will continue to slow other courthouse activity.

In ill-fated attempts to circumvent these and other issues, residents will soon find new expenditures on county budget sheets and no doubt they’ll come looking for answers. Here’s hoping they knock on the correct door. Roughly 20,000 neighbors have some explaining to do — and justifications requiring court and law enforcement officials to ignore the law aren’t enough.

“Stop arresting people” isn’t a viable solution.

In Johnson County, roughly 52,000 people marked an oval in hopes of selecting Iowa’s next U.S. Senator. Of those, about 47,800 took time to flip their ballots and vote on the possibility of a penny sales tax. About 500 of those LOST voters couldn’t be bothered with the courthouse annex bond issue.

So, once again the minority reigns. When should the majority expect a path forward?

This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on Nov. 8, 2014. Photo credit: Liz Martin/The Gazette