Letter to the editor: Political calculus

To the editor:

In January 2015, I met with a county leader to share my concerns about the proposed jail expansion. It was a few months after Lawrence voters had rejected a new police headquarters, and the official told me the city’s mistake was presenting voters with the choice of “yes, we will build the headquarters” or “no, we will keep things as they are.”

The county wouldn’t make that mistake, he told me. The county would instead tell voters they could vote yes and get a jail expansion and needed mental health services, or they could vote no and the county would still build the jail expansion, but there would be no more mental health projects.

In the years since that meeting, I have tried to convince myself that I misunderstood the official’s comments, but my jaw dropped and my heart fell this week when I saw a county commissioner saying the same thing in a Journal-World article: “If the referendum were to fail, the commission would be forced to use property taxes to finance the jail expansion and there would be no funding for the behavioral health projects.”

I grew up in Douglas County, and I never thought I would see this kind of political calculus — holding mental health resources hostage to secure votes for a jail expansion — from our elected leaders. I will be a NO vote on the wasteful and damaging jail expansion ballot in May.