Iowa City Press-Citizen
November 16, 2012, p. A7
That’s what the County Supervisors and their supporters are asking.
Some want to turn up the volume on their megaphone, spend more on better public relations and advertising, and push the original proposal one more time – kind of like a Hawkeyes’ fourth-and-goal brute force effort.
But Supervisor Terrence Neuzil says, "I’m not interested in putting the same proposal in front of the voters that just voted it down." He thinks, "the proposed center [could] use some changes." Supervisor Janelle Rettig notes the racial disparity of those who stay in jail for longer than a week. County Attorney Janet Lyness thinks supporters should include in their future discussions those who oppose the bond.
These folks are setting the right tone and strategy. Brute force reeks of the City Council's recent effort to end run a public vote when giving away taxpayers’ money to private profit projects. Or the School Board’s attempt to sell property owners on funding schools with a sales tax that will fall hardest on the poor – until the tail on this scorpion flips back on them years later.
The Justice Center, by contrast, can emerge from democracy at its best.
Consider: Many opponents acknowledge that “something” is needed. Many supporters have serious concerns. Unlike in Washington, D.C., a Johnson County compromise is possible.
Both supporters and opponents left a lot of alternatives on the table, and can bring to it a substantial reservoir of civility -- to everyone's credit.
There is no need for consultants, meaningless surveys, and endless discussions that never reach conclusions -- except the agreement to have yet another meeting. We can work this out.
I would make one suggestion that’s worked elsewhere.
Find one or two persons willing to do some writing. Task them to put forth each of the advocates' assertions for, and opponents' assertions against, the current proposal.
Second, have them meet, first with selected groups of supporters, and then with opponents, to come up with the best responses each group provides to the others' arguments. Revise the first paper accordingly (including both assertions and responses).
Third, select representatives of both camps who seem to be the most inclined to rational, analytical, data-driven, civil discourse. See what kind of a compromise proposal, if any, can be created when they meet.
My allotted 500 words don’t permit itemizing all arguments pro and con, let alone possible compromises. Many have appeared in these pages over the past few weeks, including an earlier column of mine embedded in http://fromdc2iowa.blogspot.com/2012/10/prisons-costs-and-challenges-of-crime.html. To them, Supervisor Rettig has recently added “building in stages.”
Discussion can be constructive; it is essential. But it can be multiples more efficient and effective if it is focused on written documents, revised as the discussion progresses.
In my experience, this approach can produce a tangible product from the discussion, greater likelihood of agreement, and a record of the process.
It also just might produce a Justice Center proposal with over 60 percent support.
Nicholas Johnson teaches at the University of Iowa College of Law, formerly served on the local school board, and maintains www.nicholasjohnson.org and FromDC2Iowa.blogspot.com.