Sunday, February 28, 2010

First priority: Fix the JJC's air conditioning

The Editors
South Bend Tribune

St. Joseph Probate Judge Peter Nemeth says that he needs $67,000 to pay for an overhaul the Thomas N. Frederick Juvenile Justice Center's air conditioning chillers. He wants to use money from the probation user fee fund.

But first the St. Joseph County Board of Commissioners has to sign off on the request. The commissioners won't do it.

We've heard this before. It's a familiar refrain in St. Joseph County.

After the commissioners first turned down Nemeth's $67,000 request, even though the County Council had approved it, the council overrode their veto. And now the commissioners say they still won't sign off on the purchase. They're waiting to be told by the Indiana Supreme Court that Nemeth's planned use for the money is proper.

In fact, the pending decision from the Supreme Court will be the resolution of an earlier standoff between Nemeth and the commissioners. It started as a request by Nemeth for $355,000 from JJC and probation user fee funds. The request was approved by the council and commissioners. But then the commissioners reversed themselves.

The first series of events resulted in a mandate by Nemeth, which was supported by as special judge (who also assessed the county $18,000 for Nemeth's legal fees) and now is before the high court.

Nemeth's response to this latest round? He says he'll take more legal action because he's in the right and the air conditioner chillers have to be fixed.

But the commissioners aren't budging.

Ill will between Nemeth and the commissioners notwithstanding, there are some facts at play here.

First, the JJC must have air conditioning. The temperature control system must be repaired. The building cannot be used during warm months without it.

The commissioners and the judge need to do what is necessary to accomplish this task. It is their duty, not a question of goodwill.

It is a shame when officials whose job it is to act in the public interest resort to lawsuits against one another and money wasted on avoidable legal fees. We surely do not want to hear about any more threats of legal action. What we want to hear is that the air conditioners at the JJC have been fixed.


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