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Friday, August 26, 2005

Alabama Voices: Jail plan shows failure of leadership

Alabama Voices: Jail plan shows failure of leadership

By Larry Menefee
Montgomery Advertiser

It was so sad I did not think I could respond. But I have to. Your article last week about the apparent decision of the county to spend about $100 million to expand the jail and county offices gives in to our worst fears rather than our best hopes.

Leadership is failing. A decision to build for 20 years into the future more jails and more government offices is not about leadership for a better future.

Expenditures of government are about priorities and needs. As these county leaders cross Scott street from their parking garage each day they should notice Baldwin school, almost 100 years old, and then look at the existing jail, about 20 years old. Can they then tell us that we most need more jail space and government offices to take us 20 years into the future?

Might it be that if the money was spent on education of this generation the jail space might not be needed in 20 years and that those educated children would be better able to use a smaller and more technologically sophisticated county government? Perhaps at least that would be the hope. But they want to budget out of fear and defeat.

The excuse from the county will be that it has no responsibility for the schools, just as the city and our legislative delegation say. But they all have a responsibility, a moral responsibility, to lead our community and to educate our children.

The legal documents, starting with the 1875 Constitution through our current 1901 Constitution, purposefully created a weak system of public education so that the former slaves and low-income whites would not have claims for education. Our whole state has suffered for that. Those current leaders who use that excuse actively perpetuate that old plan.

They are either part of the problem or part of the solution. Either leadership at all levels of local government will do their share to make the old broken educational system work or that system will continue to fail us. The current leaders are perpetuating the lingering effects of that old system.

Yes, they could change that system and given the school board the taxing authority it needs to meet its responsibility, but until they do that they should make the old system work.

And this newspaper doesn't get a free pass. The discussion must be about the choices we are making. The symbolic juxtaposition of the century-old Baldwin with 600 children and the 20-year-old county jail with about 300 beds should be discussed.

The plans for tripling the capacity of the jail and county office space for 20 years is a poor vision for the future of our community in light of other more immediate needs, particularly educational.

Larry Menefee practices law in Montgomery.

It is very heartening to see someone agree with me publicly that building prisons and government offices instead of educational institutions is a recipe for disaster designed to keep our heads empty and the jail cells full.


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