Winona deserved a public hearing


From: Bekky Vrabel



The Winona County Board disenfranchised their constituents last Tuesday morning by voting 3-2 to deny Winona County residents a public hearing regarding the jail expansion. Twelve concerned citizens, including myself, spoke up during public comment at the County Board meeting to voice our apprehension and demand a public hearing to allow for more community involvement and consideration on the jail expansion project. 

I would have thought the outpouring of comments and questions at the December 14 informational presentation that overwhelmed the chat would have been enough to convince the board that a more in-depth forum was needed. Or maybe the many postcards commissioner Olson referred to that the board received prior to the meeting. Or the letters to the editor to this paper. Or the countless emails sent to board members. 

Instead, the County Board repeatedly denied their constituents a voice on the $25-million project. In a 3-2 vote, commissioners Meyer, Kovecsi, and Olson refused the community a public forum to raise legitimate concerns about the jail expansion. In another 3-2 vote, the same commissioners voted against a motion to consider a smaller jail. And in a last ditch effort by commissioners Ward and Jacob to table a vote that would move the project forward to allow time for more public discourse, commissioners Meyer, Kovecsi, and Olson again ignored calls for pause from the community and voted to approve the recommended jail design resolution. As elected representatives, they should have responded to the call for a public hearing by voting for one instead of consistently dismissing our right to be heard.

Concerned citizens, parents, guardians, mental health professionals, and scholars who call Winona County home spoke up to hopefully move the community towards restorative justice, which emphasizes community-based, equitable crime prevention and healing. People spoke up to say that this proposed jail is an inadequate response to mental health and addiction care gaps in our community. People asserted that a system that only consults a carceral industry to solve a problem will only be met with carceral industry solutions. People lamented that a juvenile detention center was even being considered instead of community-based solutions that keep families together. 

They denied us a chance to be heard in a public forum under the guise of urgency, but they won’t silence our dissent for this jail expansion and the real harm it poses to our community.


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