In Sunday’s Indianapolis Star, John Guy took critics of the proposed justice center (of whom I am one) to task. His arguments boiled down to three: a new Justice Center is badly needed; it has been studied for a long time; and critics have not offered alternatives to the proposal.
None of the critics, to the best of my knowledge, have debated the need for a new facility. And it is true that moving the jail and criminal courts has been studied (or at least discussed) since the early 1990’s, although those studies have been limited in one way or another. So that leaves us with the charge–implicit, but unmistakable–that criticisms that do not offer detailed alternative proposals should be ignored.
Let me say up front that I am very sympathetic to Guy’s impatience with nay-sayers, with knee-jerk opposition to proposals advanced by government voiced by people who have no constructive suggestions to offer. That said, however, it is equally unreasonable to dismiss very specific concerns raised by a wide variety of citizens without specifically addressing or rebutting those concerns.
My own criticisms have included the lack of transparency in the planning process, and the current back-and-forth illuminates why such transparency is important: had the City-County Council and the public been included earlier in the process, rather than being presented with a “take it or leave it” package, concerns could have been aired then and–if good answers were available–rebutted. This is particularly true of the financing mechanism, which the administration acknowledges has rarely been used in this sort of project, but it also applies to issues raised by architects, city planners and real estate brokers. If the city has hard data to support its contentions that the project as envisioned will not adversely affect a downtown market that five administrations have spent 30 plus years developing, that data should be shared.
Criminal justice experts have pointed out that systemic reforms currently being discussed in Congress (for which, amazingly enough, there is bipartisan support) would likely require changes in the size and function of parts of the planned facility. An open process would allow the city and/or the successful bidder to explain whether such policy changes could be accommodated, and if so, how.
I understand impatience (indeed, I tend to share it), but when you are spending huge sums and making decisions that will have an enormous impact on the city–decisions that we will have to live with for decades to come–getting it right is more important than getting it done quickly.