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Eau Claire County jail project is dead

By: Mary Rinzel Email
By: Mary Rinzel Email
City Council says "no" to plans for downtown jail

The Eau Claire County jail

The Eau Claire County jail project is dead. After years of planning and years of protests, the Eau Claire City Council rejected the County's rezoning request by a vote of 5 to 6.

Because of a protest petition, approval for the project would have required a super majority vote -- or a "yes" from 9 of the 11 council members.

"Not putting the jail in this place is an idea that will suck the life right out of the west bank," City Council President Kerry Kincaid said before the vote.

"Who in their right mind would tell people who want to pay more money for something, to get a better quality of something, you can't have it? Who would do that?" Councilman Berlye Middleton asked before voting against the proposal.

Earlier in the night, the Council also rejected a motion to postpone the vote. The motion failed by a vote of 6 to 5. Council member Dave Duax made the original motion. He wanted to postpone the vote until July 27. He also requested the County gather more information.

Then just moments after the final vote, opponents of the downtown jail celebrated and quickly spread the news.

"I'm feeling very well,"said Dennis Begalke. "I think it shows our system works too."

Begalke's two river-front homes allowed him to be part of the petition requiring a super-majority vote. He says he's happy the majority of the council said "no."

"This way hopefully the County goes back and gets the message loud and clear that the people of Eau Claire don't want this thing expanded in the West Grand Avenue area," Begalke told us.

"I'm very happy with it," Ryan Wells said.

Wells helped head up the group Citizens for Accountable Jail Expansion, or CAJE. It's a group he says played a vital role in stopping the project.

"We really came together. We were a very strong community group and very professional group doing everything we needed to do to get the job done and make sure Eau Claire didn't make a huge mistake," Wells said.

"The Council made it clear that the proposal was unacceptable and we'll have to move on from there," Eau Claire County Board Chair Gregg Moore told us immediately after the vote.

Moore said the Council's vote was somewhat disappointing. The County pulled the proposal about a year ago for fear the Council would shut it down; a special committee was then formed to find a solution. Now, Moore says the County again has a lot of work to do.

"We'll have to figure something out. I don't know quite what it means. But, it's quite possible there will be a strong effort to move to a split campus separating government services," Moore says.

Moore says the County will work quickly to come up with an answer. The first step is to figure out which direction it wants to move to get the jail built. He says everyone seems to agree the County needs one; they just have to find a place with more support behind it.

Sheriff Ron Cramer says the sheriff's department still has a job to do. He says they'll continue forward until the County Board identifies a site, hopefully with the help of the city.

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Here's how the Eau Claire City Council voted:

Yes:

Dave Duax
Thomas Kemp
Kerry Kincaid
David Klinkhammer
Jackie Pavelski

No:

Bob Von Haden
Thomas Vue
Andrew Werthmann
Larry Balow
Brandon Buchanan
Berlye Middleton


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