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Talking Points -- Stevens County's jail talks no match for Douglas' toxicity

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The Stevens County Board of Commissioners is meeting regularly in work sessions to decide how it wants to proceed on a few pressing building projects.

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The board is moving along at a relatively constant pace, although the commissioners still haven't decided what should be included in the current project.

While their work is continuing, there are some who believe these issues could -- and should -- have been decided some time ago.

But at least the commissioners aren't baring claws at each other, and they certainly aren't engaged in the kind of dysfunctional governing that's apparently been on-going in Douglas County.

Officials there have been trying for at least five years to find a location and a suitable plan for a jail. The county's current jail is close to being closed down by the Minnesota Department of Corrections, and growth in the county has led to the need for more space.

Since then, an Alcatraz-style joint in the middle of Lake Carlos is about the only location the county hasn't considered putting a jail.

A site is agreed on, then not. Then it seems like it's back on the table. Until it's not.

Earlier this week, city officials, including a fired-up Mayor Dan Ness, angrily took issue with comments made by county commissioners, according to a story in the Alexandria Echo-Press. The mayor and city planner compiled a long history of the city's involvement in jail and Law Enforcement Center-related discussions with the county and recapped the city's long-standing willingness to cooperate fully with the county on those issues. This laundry list was compiled and aired after two commissioners accused the city of changing its comprehensive plan to ensure the current downtown site wouldn't be an option through expansion and renovation, the Echo Press story reported.

At the city's regular meeting, another Douglas County Commissioner admitted the county is "probably back to square one -- unfortunately." The commissioner, Paul Anderson, also said "The ball is in our court. We just can't put it in the hoop," the Echo Press story stated.

Even citizens are getting riled. Ness had a sharp exchange of words with one man during a public comment period, and hundreds of people are weighing in on the issue on the Echo Press Web site.

Whew. Maybe you think the Stevens County Commissioners are moving too slow, and maybe you think they're moving too fast regarding its deliberations on jails and other building projects. Maybe the costs are too high, you think, while others might not think the commissioners are being ambitious enough.

But whatever your opinion, they've at least kept the discussions from becoming so toxic that returning to square one seems to be the only place they can find common ground.

That all could change, however. Stevens County has been talking about its jail almost as long as Douglas County. Depending on how the board votes on what to include in its current plans, the divide might grow. Right now, however, the commissioners have kept things relatively calm, cool and collected.

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