Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Save the Children

Ah, Roane County, Tennessee. Balmy weather this morning and the creek is running high enough to talk to me when I go out on the deck.

"Go kayaking..." the creek says.

I think about making a few calls and canceling appointments, but I shouldn't. Life intrudes on my fun.I have obligations that can't be put off until tomorrow, so I'll just take a quick hike and morn the loss of a play day.

Later, I promise myself.

Roane is a good place with just a little more than its fair share of shallow thinkers. Lots of those seem to wind up in our political offices. If a thoughtful person does have a stupid moment, run for office and get elected, by some weird coalescence of cosmic forces, it is difficult for them to change the direction the county is headed. If one of the city or county officials actually has an idea, which is not quite rare enough to be odd... but almost, the other officials will pounce on him like chickens on a dropped egg.

"Ideas are supposed to come from consulting firms," the other officials will say. "They have things to sell our county and our fair cities. Therefore, it is the consulting firms that know best what is good for us..." Then they will vote to reduce spending in the offending official's district, especially if the idea was a particularly good one.

Now, Roane County has a jail. Not a fine Taj Majal Jail, just a plain old jail. It is a bit too small for the number of guests inside. It sits about 150 feet away from the famous Roane County Courthouse, where girlfriends of inmates come to shoot their boyfriends out of prison.

You may have seen us on TV. A prisoner from the next county was visiting us and his girlfriend decided it was time for her fifteen minutes of fame and tragedy ensued. An officer was killed...He was a good man, by all accounts. Shot dead in the parking lot during the transport of a prisoner to and from a jail many miles away. This apparently gave our officials an idea..."Hey!" they said. "Let's build a new jail for ourselves and we can put it many miles away, too. This way, Roane County can be on National TV over and over again, when girlfriends of prison guests come to shoot up the place." Since this was a perfectly bad idea any way you looked at it, all the County officials nodded their heads. Nobody's district was going to lose money over this turkey.

It was a jewel of a bad idea.

The new jail is proposed to cost $18 million. That is the proposed figure and you can imagine what the actual cost will be. A phrase you will never ever hear in regard to a County project is, "On time and under budget." The average number of guests in our prison is 120. I know you guys have started scratching on your napkins so I'll do the math for you. 18,000,000 divided by 120 is 150,000. You can think about it sort of like our county fathers are proposing that we build a hundred and twenty houses for our prison guests that might cost as little as (but probably more than) $150,000.00 each. Nice!

There's more.

Right now, as I said, the current jail is 150 feet from the Courthouse. It is also next to the Sheriff's office, two blocks away from the police station, firehouse, etc. etc. etc. And smack dab in the center of a business district. In the world of County officials, this is a bad place for the jail and where they propose to build the new jail is adjacent to Roane County Community College and adjacent to a residential neighborhood. Sounds like the perfect place for society's worst, don't you think? Property values should skyrocket, eh? The Community College Administrators, having several campuses to put their efforts into in the future, will certainly want to build up the campus located next to the jail, right?

There's more.

Roane county has another crowding problem that involves society's best as opposed to its worst. We have two elementary schools that have almost twice as many students as they should. We need two new schools right now and at least two more in the near future. Let's see, now...Where should the County put its money? Into the criminals, or into the children?

In a room in the Roane County Courthouse, the Roane County Commissioners sat in a sort of semi circle , facing each other as they search for leadership. (Why do Committees look at the inside of their tiny little circles when they search for ideas? Shouldn't they look the other way? At the rest of the world?)

"Let's spend our tax money on the Criminals!" they all agreed. "We'll get to raise property taxes by ten percent,... Even better...We get to screw the kids, and the consulting firms get a bunch of money. It's Perfect!" they said.

Yep, they did!



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