Jail design causes outrage

Commission left out of decision-making

• Chosen design laid over for more public input

When the appointed members of the Winnebago County Crime and Public Safety Commission met for the first time Jan. 9, appointee Larry Morrissey didn’t think their commission would be ignored by county officials, let alone not even considered or consulted. However, that is precisely what happened Nov. 5 when the Winnebago County Public Safety Committee approved the three-tiered design of the county’s imminent $130 million jail without the commission’s input, Morrissey said.

Morrissey said: “We weren’t in the loop. We were never in the decision-making process. To them, it’s about time—they just want to get it built.”

Morrissey, and 23 other “citizens” were appointed earlier this year to a commission to make recommendations on how the county should spend the 1 percent increase in the county’s sales tax.

The sales tax jumped from 6.25 percent to 7.25 percent in July. The jail tax is expected to generate about $23.2 million per year for public safety issues.

Winnebago County State’s Attorney Paul Logli and Winnebago County Sheriff Richard Meyers said late last year, the commission’s purpose was to make recommendations about the jail’s construction and alternatives to jail. Members of the commission were appointed by various public officials, such as Meyers and Logli (see Jan. 8 issue). Morrissey, a local attorney, was appointed by Logli and is chairman of the citizens’ commission for the jail’s construction.

In a Nov. 8 e-mail to Rick Pollack, chairman of the Winnebago County Public Safety Committee, Morrissey wrote: “You and the county board are on your own from this point if you are unwilling to bring the community along with you in your decision-making process. …This decision was your committee’s decision, not the community’s decision. Your committee didn’t just ignore us, you slapped us all in the face.”

The committee approved one of three jail designs that were all primarily horizontal, sprawling, multi-level complexes surrounded by vehicle parking. The designs were called Concepts X, Y and Z. The public safety committee chose Concept Y.

Morrissey said he preferred more and better options, such as better use of the space around the proposed jail. Instead, the citizens’ committee for the jail’s construction was not even consulted about the design, Morrissey said.

“The designs only came out and were unveiled for the first time to the community at the county board meeting on Oct. 23. Our Public Safety Commission (like the rest of the public) was kept in the dark about the designs until that day. Less than two weeks later, you voted on it the same day, the only day given for public comment,” Morrissey wrote to Pollack.

Monday, Pollack urged the county’s executive committee to lay over the chosen design recommendation before sending the design to the full county board. The executive committee approved Pollack’s motion. Had the executive committee not approved Pollack’s motion, the county board would have voted on the design Thursday.

When asked, Pollack said the purpose of the layover was “to ensure the public input is made.” Pollack said Nov. 6 that there was no support on the Public Safety Committee to delay the vote on the design. However, the committee’s position completely changed by Monday afternoon.

When asked to comment about Morrissey’s message to Pollack, Gary Burdett, the jail program director, said: “I really don’t have a reaction. It’s an impression he’s had. He’s been in front of the team a number of times to say what he’s had to say. …We want an attractive building.”

Burdett was also asked whether he felt the public was sufficiently involved and notified about the jail construction process. Burdett described the building process, cited his e-mail address at the county’s Web site for messages and said “We really haven’t had much comment from the public.”

Chris Johnson, a member of the public safety committee, said: “The county board had no knowledge or input into the appointments or awareness of the establishment of the Citizens’ Crime and Public Safety Commission. Therefore, they don’t have any authority.”

Morrissey also asked in his message, “And why on earth was neither our committee nor City of Rockford officials invited to participate at the design charettes where the architects came up with the concept designs in the first place?”

Burdett said only the Durrant architectural design team and their consultants were invited to the design charettes, the brain-storming sessions for conceptual drawings.

This isn’t the first time the county has not followed through on intentions concerning the jail. A July 2002 county document about the jail reads, “The final layout and design of the facility will follow citizen input and submission of other proposals.”

The same document reads, “Obviously, the county will seek out, through requests for proposals [RFP] and competitive bidding, the best price for construction of the facility.”

However, RFPs were never requested for the jail’s $6.5 million construction management team of Bovis Lend Lease, Ringland-Johnson, Inc., and Scandroli Construction Co.

Instead, the county requested qualifications rather than proposals and opted to use a statutorily defined construction-project delivery system called “construction manager.” Supporters of construction manager systems say the law allows municipalities to choose services based on qualifications rather than cost.

Critics argue construction manager laws are a way for municipalities to circumvent competitive bidding laws. The county could have asked for RFPs for the construction management team but said quality of their services was more important than cost. The construction management’s $6.5 million fee is about twice the industry standard of 2-3 percent of the cost of a project.

Also, there is no set price on the cost of the new jail. Estimates range from $93 million to $130 million, depending on final design decisions.

Pollack is asking for a meeting to be scheduled within the next two weeks. Pollack also asked that presentations be made by Logli, Meyers, Burdett, Winnebago County Board Chairman Kris Cohn, 17th Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Gerald Grubb, and representatives from the architectural and construction management teams.

To view the county’s proposed jail and offer on line comments, visit: www.co.winnebago.il.us. The committee chose “Concept Y” as the preferred design. Pollack said there will be a concept “W” after public input.

Incarceration rate (main jail)

(number of inmates per 100,000 people)

1993—138 Winnebago Co.

2001—205 Winnebago Co.

Incarceration rate (total)

2008—648 Winn. Co., Times’ estimate

1960s—681 Soviet Union

1970s—750 South Africa

Average daily jail population

1993—110 Winnebago Co.

2001—560 Winnebago Co.

Crime rate

(number of crimes per 100,000 people)

1993—8,308 Winnebago Co.

2001—6,618 Winnebago Co.

Drug arrest rate

(number of arrests per 100,000 people)

1993 —220 Winnebago Co.

2001—greater than 900 Winnebago Co.

Sources: Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority and Dr. Mike Hazlett.

County Board Public

Safety Committee:

Rick Pollack—1047 Harlem Blvd.,

Rockford, Ill., 963-1047

Chris Johnson—5639 Haddon Place,

Rockford, Ill., 637-2250

Tuffy Quinonez—2003 16th Ave.

Rockford, Ill., 484-0452

Mary Ann Aiello—521 Renrose Ave.

Loves Park, Ill., 877-6833

Larry Bauer—11506 Tanawingo Trail,

Roscoe, Ill., 623-7404

Reggie Taylor—2107 Shelley Dr.,

Rockford, Ill., 963-8953

John Sweeney—4948 Brookview Rd.,

Rockford, Ill, 282-0361

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