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After transparency frustrations, Jackson County approves $4 million to begin building new jail

The current Jackson County Detention Center in downtown Kansas City.
Sam Zeff
KCUR 89.3
The current Jackson County Detention Center in downtown Kansas City.

Legislators had been concerned with what they said was a lack of transparency about the new detention center.

The Jackson County Legislature approved spending $4.4 million on Monday to move forward with the construction of a new county detention center — but only after legislators voiced frustration with what they said was the lack of information shared with county officials.

Approval of the resolution allows JCDC, LLC, the company overseeing the project, to move into the design and construction phases. It comes after approval of the financing hit a snag last week, when legislators, frustrated with what they said was incomplete information about the project, voted down the resolution.

Legislators voted to reconsider after a presentation by JCDC representatives on Monday assuring them that the company would provide regular updates each month on the jail's status.

In 2019, JCDC was chosen to be the “owner’s representative” acting on behalf of Jackson County to manage the development and construction of the jail, which will be located on the site of a former mobile village park.

JCDC official Rick Davidson told legislators the company has a history of working on projects involving corrections and detention facilities, including 20 years’ experience in the Kansas City area.

“We are a very robust extension of your staff, bringing together very specialized expertise,” Davidson said.

The aim is for the jail to last for a minimum of 50 years, Davidson said.

According to a timeline of the project, construction will take up to three years. Last week, the Legislature approved a $2.9 million contract with J.E. Dunn-Axiom for construction and design.

First District-at-Large Legislator Jalen Anderson, who voted down the resolution last week and supported it on Monday, said the county needs to do things differently.

“I will tell you, in my three and a half years, I've never seen a government that doesn't put out any information on big discussions or spending of monies like this one has,” he said.

Approval of the funds came months after Jackson County and JCDC chose Heart Mobile Village as the site for the jail. Heart Mobile Village was home to more than 100 residents who were forced to relocate after Jackson County purchased the land for $7 million last August.

A number of residents demanded that the county compensate residents for moving, provide $10,000 cash payments separate from compensation packages and cancel rent payments.

The county has spent about $2.5 million to assist with relocation costs. But some residents have criticized county officials for not following through on their promises. Other residents have said they were threatened with evictions and utility shut-offs while they were still living there.

Second District Legislator Ronald Finley, the only legislator to oppose Monday’s resolution, said he wasn’t impressed by JCDC’s presentation and declared the company has not taken its duties seriously enough.

“Showing up every once in a while with a report was offensive to me, when we could have had more detail, more step by step of what was going on, what was being provided, who was being met with, what decisions were made,” Finley said. “And I think we had a right to expect an overall plan on behalf of who we represent here about a regional facility.”

As KCUR’s Missouri politics and government reporter, it’s my job to show how government touches every aspect of our lives. I break down political jargon so people can easily understand policies and how it affects them. My work is people-forward and centered on civic engagement and democracy. I hold political leaders and public officials accountable for the decisions they make and their impact on our communities. Follow me on Twitter @celisa_mia or email me at celisa@kcur.org.
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