The Washington County Commissioners approved a measure exempting the purchase of real property from competitive bidding at today’s (Tuesday’s) meeting.
The purpose is to acquire about 20 acres of land for the road and bridge department that would make room adjacent to the county jail for a new justice center.
Washington County Judge John Brieden took several critical questions from the public on the need for this. Bill Nienast asked if this would allow the County Commissioners to negotiate for land anytime they felt like it. That led Precinct Three County Commissioner Kirk Hanath to amend the motion to say this would be a one-time negotiation for this particular purpose. Hanath is the Commissioner who would be doing this negotiation.
Randy Power asked if this was just to build a new justice center or did this also fill the need of the Road and Bridge Department. Judge Brieden said the county had been looking for a new and safer place for the Road and Bridge Department for some time.
Power and several other speakers thought the county was putting the ‘cart before the horse’ because there are no specific plans to build a justice center. Brieden said however, they will need the center in the future because all the courtroom space is currently overused and the courts need greater security.
Brieden noted that currently prisoners going to a docket call, or other court sessions, are transported to courthouse, and have contact with the public. He said the new justice center would prevent this.
Power said nonetheless, he and others would oppose the new justice center.
The negotiations will now begin but there is no timetable for the move of the Road and Bridge Department and the construction of a justice center.