id you see in the Kansas City Star on Thursday that the City of Kansas City is planning to build a 150-bed jail? Several interesting points about this, a couple which I’ll quickly touch on here and others we’ll talk about on Landmark Live on Facebook Thursday night with David Park, who is now retired after several years working for Kansas City.
The most striking point is that Kansas City says it can build a 150-bed jail for about $8 million. Compare that to Platte County’s proposal for a 200-bed jail addition for anywhere from $43 million to $50 million. Wow. What gives?I noticed Platte County Sheriff Mark Owen said on Facebook below our post about Kansas City’s jail proposal: “Did some checking on this and it’s not comparing apples to apples.” He did not elaborate.
The sheriff is a good dude and a good cop, but I’m not sure there are enough apples-to-apples in the entire Midwest to justify the county spending $35-$42 million more for 200 jail beds than Kansas City is paying for 150 jail beds.
This eye-opening revelation is in line with what several government folks have quietly said to The Landmark since the county’s estimated jail construction costs came to light. The feeling around the government community among those with experience with jail construction is that Platte County would be overpaying for its proposed project, and not just by a little.
In the words of Desi Arnaz: “Lucy, I think you’ve got some ’splainin’ to do.”
Another interesting point: Kansas City says it’s jail construction “would take more than six months” to complete. That’s a considerably shorter time frame than Platte County is saying its jail project would take. In a meeting with area mayors last week, the sheriff commented it would be “two to three years” before the first new jail bed is ready to be occupied.
Either the county will have a much slower construction process than the city or the county is overstating things in order to push a doomsday agenda designed to scare the public into voting a certain way.
Last Wednesday seemed to be a strange day for Ron Schieber, presiding commissioner for Platte County.
Schieber and I exchanged greetings and a handshake prior to the start of a meeting of the Platte County Mayors Council that morning. In a brief and polite exchange, he acknowledged my opposition to the proposed $65 million jail tax. Then he quietly said something interesting.
“If I was sitting on the outside of this thing I’d probably be right with (you). If I was sitting on the outside,” he said to me.
I responded: “If three Democrats were proposing this, you know you would be opposed to it. You know you would.”
“Ok, but I’m not on the outside now,” he said.
The exchange was very brief but there’s potentially a lot to unpack here. Is Schieber’s heart not totally in this $65 million proposal he and the two other commissioners put on the ballot? His comment hints at that, does it not? If it’s something he would be opposing as a member of the general public, why is he supporting it in his role as county commissioner? Is he not as emotionally invested in this massive proposal as the two associate commissioners?
Maybe it’s notable to point out Schieber did not attend two recent Platte County EDC-related sessions in which a subcommittee showed it did not support the proposal when it failed to second a motion that would have endorsed it. Schieber also did not attend the next day when the full EDC board took no action to bring the matter to the table.
Of course Schieber can explain his absence any way he likes. His absence at those meetings isn’t necessarily important. What is important is that the comment he made above gives you a candid look inside his head.
Late in the meeting with the mayors, Schieber lost his junk when the topic of the Zona Rosa bonds and the resulting tanking of the county’s credit rating came up for discussion. A borderline over-the-top rant began after he was trying to deflect questions from a couple of mayors about potential financing costs of the proposed jail addition. Ron’s rant went like this: “Here’s what I will tell you. There’s a lot of misinformation out there about what the trustee is demanding from the county, misinformation coming from people who originate these bonds, people who buy these bonds and sell these bonds, about what the demands are on the county.
People are reporting and going to community meetings and lying about what has been demanded of the county. It goes way past ‘we just want last year’s payment.’ There’s a lot of people out there saying ‘if they just would have paid last year’s payment everything would be fine.’ Quite frankly that is BS. People are out there lying. They (the trustee) are declaring default and trying to obligate the county not to just make this payment but to obligate this county to make every payment from here on out. People are out there lying about what the trustee has demanded of the county.”
At this point, if you’re thinking: “Um, wut?” I’m right there with you. But Schieber wasn’t done.
“They think they can put a lot of community and political pressure on a governing body to make a payment that they’re not obligated to pay. And that’s BS. This is a good time for me to dispel the misinformation, no, the lies that are out there about what the trustee is demanding.”
Then, just when you thought things couldn’t get weirder, associate commissioner Dagmar Wood chimed in with this: “And those lies are being perpetuated by our business community.”
Goodness. Again, there’s a lot of things to unpack here. The easiest one to unpack is Wood’s comment about the business community. Accusing business folks in the county of perpetuating lies is no small thing. Relations between commissioners and many in the business community were already strained. Wood’s comment seems destined to make things worse, not better.
As for Schieber’s accusations, has anyone heard these alleged lies he alleges are being spread? Granted, I could be missing something, but I’ve followed this issue closely and I’ve yet to hear anyone say or anyone report that if the county had only made the December payment the entire debt risk would go away and everything would be fine and dandy. What I have heard people say, and understandably so, is that they are surprised that if the commissioners planned to bring a $65 million jail/building project to voters and knew they would be needing some financing, why did they not take the steps necessary to protect the county’s credit rating in the meantime? As in, why did they make public comments that endangered their credit rating and why did they not make that December payment? That’s a valid criticism and totally different than the scenario Schieber described.
It was all very strange. Much like the timing of this proposed jail tax.
(Get more Between the Lines on Facebook at Platte County Landmark, where you can watch episodes of Landmark Live. The show goes live on Facebook Thursday nights at 6 p.m. and videos remain on Facebook for viewing at your leisure. Email Ivan Foley at email@example.com)