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Looking for wisdom

by Carolyn Kahant
We might call it the rise and fall of the Kerr County Juvenile Detention Facility.
On April 3rd, Kerr County Commissioners Court had the first JDF-related unanimous vote in a long time when it eliminated the post-adjudicated program and reduced the occupancy to 16 beds.
Commissioners Bill Williams and Jonathan Letz reversed course from their previous positions, including those they held during last summer’s workshops exploring the most financially viable course of action for the facility. But their reversal was prompted by a letter of resignation from facility administrator Becky Harris.
In that same June to August period, TaxpayersWatch for Kerr County sent an email to all five court members, and also posted on its website, that “Our recommendation is to stop subsidizing other counties (and to adopt) the Sheriff’s proposal to limit our Juvenile Detention Facility to serving only pre-adjudicated juveniles,” and gave some reasons why.
Now that the court has arrived at that position, what are some of the lessons learned from this ordeal? Can we extract some wisdom to guide us in future projects and exploits?
The danger of overreach comes strongly to mind. For many, the original error was the decision in 2002 by the Kerr County Juvenile Board, composed of County Judge Fred Heneke and District Judges Stephen Ables and Karl Prohl, the facility’s overseers, to increase the size by one-third. A new corporation was formed to allow bonds to be sold without going to the voters. The original 48-bed facility became a 72-bed facility. It wasn’t needed for servicing Kerr County youth, but was a money-making endeavor dependent on bringing in lots of out-of-county juveniles.
Another lesson may be that our expectations of success from the application of government money to social problems is too high. And what is government money, anyway, but our money. Commissioner Buster Baldwin said at the April 3rd meeting that if a buyer could be found, he’d be in favor of selling the facility. Commissioner Dave Nicholson concurred. Letz is interested in a much smaller facility even than sixteen, exclusively for Kerr County’s pre-adjudicated kids.   
In contrast, Judge Tinley was not in favor of dropping the post-adjudicated program, and made an eloquent plea for not making economics the measure of our commitment to the children caught in the juvenile justice system. You can read it online at www.co.kerr.tx.us/commcrt/minutes/2006/040306cc.txt.  However, in this writer's opinion, economics is real and unavoidable, and there is a limit to what the taxpayer can bear. Are we allowed to ask where the responsibility of parents and other family members lies when it comes to their children?
Tinley also said the court should "make a commitment to fund the operation of that facility and then back away." Excuse me, but wasn't that how we got into so much trouble in 2003-04 with the board putting unlimited faith in administrator Tanna Brown?
We used to be a nation where you rose or fell by your own merits, but that idea is totally discredited today. In seeking to implement a fair system, to establish a “level playing field” in our multicultural society, we’ve become a nation of dysfunctional drop-outs, living in a fantasy world where government (or “somebody else”) will solve all problems. Have you noticed the problems aren’t getting solved?  
In the search for wisdom, we probably need to get used to putting economics first, now and in the near future. Because the financial crunch that is coming will be of such magnitude as to force frugality upon us, effectively ending all debate

TaxpayersWatch for Kerr County
Webmaster Keely Vanacker