Heights City Council Holds Off On County Jail Relocation Support Vote

Andrew Trzaska | September 24, 2012

The Muskegon Heights City Council opted on Monday to table a resolution for the second time that could possibly boost chances that the Muskegon County Jail will relocate within its city limits.

414 West Broadway is one of three proposed locations for a new Muskegon County Jail, currently located immediately adjacent to the Kobza Hall of Justice in downtown Muskegon.  Much discussion in the past two years centered around relocating the jail or making it bigger, as well as calls to change policies relating to prisoners, like rules for mail coming in and out of the facility.

Other locations presented would be near Creston and Laketon as well as on or near the old Muskegon General Hospital site near US-31 north of Apple Avenue.

The council, in hopes that council members could receive more information on the matter, previously tabled this motion at their 9/17 meeting.

Concilwoman Bonnie McGlothin attended a county meeting on the jail plans last week. She noted that the other two sites might cost less than the Heights plan, because in Muskegon Heights they would have to build from the ground up.  McGlothin appeared to deliver these facts with apprehension about passing the Muskegon Heights resolution.

“Retrofitting can be just as expensive because you have to take out a lot of other things,” said Mayor Darrell Paige. “It doesn’t hurt to say we are in favor of this.”

Regardless of the estimations of cost, the resolution simply functions to put the review committee on notice that the City of Muskegon Heights is in support of the project.

“It doesn’t mean we’re going to get everything but it’s to show support for the project,” said Paige.

Outside of discussions of the plan costs, which wouldn’t likely directly affect the finances of the city, a few other issues complicated Monday’s debate.

First, the private ownership of the property at 414 Broadway was discussed. Mayor Paige admitted that the city did not have full influence over the sale of the property. If the private owner and the county come to an agreement, the 414 Broadway property could become the site of the jail even if the city did not vote to support it.

Mayor Pro Tem Sims pointed out the benefits of the city growing to support the possibility of the jail:

“Because we don’t own the property,” said Sims, “We can support them to build the jail, or we can not support them to build the jail.  Building the jail is the common denominator.”

The second major point of discussion at Monday’s meeting was resident support of the project. Mayor Paige appeared in support of the measure at Monday’ meeting, with councilwoman Patrice Johnson planning to vote against it, citing her constituency.

“If I’m considering the people I represent, I will not be voting for it,” said Johnson.  “I respect the work our county commissioner and our city manager, but it’s not the people I represent want. They are my bosses.”

Other council members appeared on the fence on the issue for reasons other than their constituents’ opinions.  Councilwoman McGlothin questioned if the resolution of support was coming too soon.  Similarly, councilman Keith Guy indicated he did not receive as much information he wanted in the week since the motion was first tabled.

Councilman Vernonell Smith also stated he was on the fence leading into today’s meeting for two reasons: He didn’t have enough information, plus he questioned the permanence of the jail versus using the specific property for something else.

The next likely chance for a vote on the matter will be at the next full council meeting on October 8.

Andrew Trzaska

103.7 “The Beat” – local government beat reporter and political analyst