Months of testimony, name-calling and questions about a Douglas County courthouse annex and juvenile justice center ended Tuesday in an Omaha City Council vote that lets the project move ahead.
But even the vote offered some drama.
Councilman Vinny Palermo, who said he “leaned yes” both before and after the vote, abstained. He did so after it became clear that the measure authorizing $114 million in bonds for construction would pass.
Palermo said he was trying to send backers of the juvenile justice center a message to include more voices from South Omaha in their discussions.
He also acknowledged the influence of several conversations with leaders of the Omaha police union, who have said they oppose the project because it provides too few detention beds for young offenders.
“The police association and their side on this weighed heavily with me,” Palermo said.
His decision left Councilman Rich Pahls, a former school principal who represents southwest Omaha, as the decisive fourth vote.
Pahls, who had not previously taken a position, said he backed the measure because his career taught him the value of investing early in kids.
Palermo’s decision left the measure vulnerable to a veto by Mayor Jean Stothert. But the mayor said in a statement Tuesday that she would let the measure take effect without her signature.
A measure would need five votes on the seven-member council to override a mayoral veto. Tuesday’s proposal allowing the Omaha-Douglas Public Building Commission to issue the bonds passed the council 4-2.
Stothert, in a statement, offered several reasons for withholding her signature, including that construction-related debt will increase property taxes.
Douglas County property taxpayers would pay the debt through rent the county would pay to the Building Commission.
The county has estimated that building the courthouse annex and juvenile justice center near 18th and Harney Streets downtown will require another 1.5 cents per $100 in assessed property value. That would cost the owner of a $200,000 house about $30 a year.
Jim Cavanaugh, the County Board’s only opponent of the project, said the mayor should reconsider her stance, because, “if she does not veto it, then she approves it, which means she approves the tax increase.”
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The county’s proposal would erect an eight-story tower and renovate the current Metropolitan Utilities District headquarters into space for juvenile courts and related services, attorneys and juvenile probation.
Stothert, in her statement, echoed Councilwoman Aimee Melton’s comments that the courthouse annex is sorely needed and has public support. That part of the project would cost $92 million.
The second, more controversial part calls for a four-story juvenile detention center connected to the courthouse annex. That would cost $22 million after a $5 million conditional pledge from the Sherwood Foundation. Sherwood also is conditionally pledging $5 million for programs for youth and families.
The juvenile justice facility would replace the county’s current juvenile detention center near 42nd Street and Poppleton Avenue. The new one would have space to hold up to 64 young offenders. The current facility has a capacity of 96, and typically holds 75 to 80 young people.
“Progress has been made over many months on the programmatic needs of the juvenile justice project,” Stothert said. “However, I am very concerned that too few beds will be available in the new detention facility to address future needs, including city growth.”
Three of the council members who voted for the measure — Chris Jerram, Pete Festersen and Pahls — mentioned the importance of deferring to the county’s expertise on juvenile justice.
The fourth council supporter, Ben Gray, called a one-stop shop for juvenile justice downtown a “no-brainer.” Gray, who represents north Omaha, has long advocated investing more in helping young people who commit crimes.
Proponents have said changes in state laws and more programs will reduce the number of young people in detention and how long they’re held. They contend that the project will reduce the use of detention further by making juvenile court processes more efficient and by inspiring further reforms.
Opponents have said the proposed detention center would be too small and doesn’t belong downtown. Some of the critics say the county should renovate its current juvenile detention center. Opponents also have criticized the county’s use of a private, nonprofit development corporation to oversee the construction and say residents should get to vote on the bonds.
Both council members who voted against the measure, Melton and Brinker Harding, said they wanted to see more data and results from increased programming for juvenile offenders before building a new building.
Melton, a lawyer who has worked on juvenile justice cases, said she supported the vast majority of the project’s aims, in particular its emphasis on helping families intervene with children before it’s too late.
“This is about families,” she said.
Douglas County Board Chairman Chris Rodgers said he was “thankful to the council and all those involved for the opportunity to try to improve the system.”
“This is not really a time for celebration,” Rodgers said. “The building is the easy part. Now begins a more complex discussion where everybody’s going to have to look internally at what we’re doing and see what we can do better.”
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Water covers a road near Valley, Nebraska, on Friday, March 15, 2019.
Heavy machinery stacks up concrete chunks on the shore of the Elkhorn River at the Q Street bridge as part of an effort to stabilize the bank on the recently flooded river.
Sarpy County Sheriff's Deputy Darin Morrissey rides an ATV through floodwaters in Hawaiian Village.
Omaha Roncalli's Shane Orr celebrates their double overtime win over Aurora during a semifinal game in the Class B Nebraska state basketball tournament at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
The Auburn bench and crowd react to Auburn's Cameron Binder hitting what would be the game winning shot against North Bend Central during the championship game in the Class C1 Nebraska state basketball tournament at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Creighton's Jordan Hovey (5), right, celebrates hitting a home run with his teammates in the 2nd inning.
Nebraskaâ€™s Adrian Martinez runs out of the end zone after a play during spring football practice at the Hawks Championship Center in Lincoln, Nebraska.
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Highway 81 is covered in floodwaters south of Columbus, Nebraska.
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Cars drive drive across a flooded Platte River on Highway 50 just north of Louisville, Nebraska.
A Canada goose flies over Matthew J. Placzek's "Monument to Labor" sculpture as floodwaters from the Missouri River begin to recede on the Omaha riverfront.
Floodwaters closed Ave I at North 26th Street in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
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Lincoln Pius X's Austin Jablonski holds up the net after his team defeated Omaha Roncalli in the championship game in the Class B Nebraska state basketball tournament at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
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Robert Jones looks around his flood damaged house north of Highway 50, near Louisville,Nebraska. The floor, which is normally a white tile, is covered in mud.
Aurora's Nicholas Hutsell, left, fouls Omaha Roncalli's Alexander Rodgers during a semifinal game in the Class B Nebraska state basketball tournament at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Lincoln Pius X's Charlie Easley, left, and and Omaha Roncalli's Alexander Rodgers stretch for a loose ball during the championship game in the Class B Nebraska state basketball tournament at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Humphrey/Lindsay Holy Family's Trent Reardon, left and Jason Sjuts celebrate their victory over Fremont Bergan during the championship game in the Class D1 Nebraska state basketball tournament at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Aurora's Kaleb Moural wipes the sweat from his face during the second half against Omaha Roncalli during a semifinal game in the Class B Nebraska state basketball tournament at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Bob the cat looks on from a basket in a boat after being rescued from floodwaters in Hamburg, Iowa.
A vehicle is stuck in floodwaters near 1st Street and Pierce Street in Fremont, Nebraska.
Tim Rockford, left, and David Bauer, tour the Bellwood Lakes neighborhood which was destroyed by the flooding days prior along the Platte River in Bellwood, Nebraska.
Lincoln East's Charlotte Bovaird practices her shot and she and her teammates warm up in the hallways before the start of the game. Lincoln East played Millard South in a Class A first-round basketball game during the girls state basketball tournament at the Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Elkhorn South's Ryee Gray (40) fights for a rebound with Sidney's Meaghan Ross (0).Sidney played Elkhorn South in a Class B first-round basketball game during the girls state basketball tournament at the Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Nebraska. Elkhorn South defeated Sidney 51-37.
Westside poses with the championship plaque with the winning score on the wall behind them after Omaha Westside defeated Millard North 54-53 at Omaha Westside in Omaha, Nebraska.
Chris Saenz of Bellevue works out at FIT IN THE CITY in Papillion, Nebraska.
Dymond Meeks leaps across the snow pile in the center of Farnam Street near its intersection with 14th Street in Omaha, Nebraska, as she makes her way to work. Meeks said the snow was terrible. She said it took her 15 minutes to get down the hill her home is located on.
Hazley Eulberg, 10, of Kennard, Nebraska, takes in the trophy display in the Whitetail Kings Collection booth at the Omaha International Boat Sports and Travel Show at the CHI Health Center in Omaha, Nebraska.
The house-made carrot cake is one of the many desserts on the menu at J. Gilbertâ€™s Wood-Fired Steaks & Seafood in Omahaâ€™s Capitol District.
UNO's Mitch Hahn (44), right, grabs a rebound over the top of teammate JT Gibson (0). UNO played South Dakota State in a men's basketball game at Baxter Arena in Omaha, Nebraska.
Norfolk's Annika Harthoorn dives backwards at the start of heat 4 of the girls 100 yard backstroke at the Bob Devaney Sports Center on Friday, Feb. 22, 2019, in Lincoln, Nebraska, during the state swimming prelims.
UNO's Mitch Hahn (44) hugs his mom Kim Hahn following UNO's 85-84 win over South Dakota State. UNO played South Dakota State in a men's basketball game at Baxter Arena in Omaha, Nebraska.
Lincoln Pius X's Katie Stonehocker competes in the girls 200 yard freestyle at the Bob Devaney Sports Center on Friday, Feb. 22, 2019, in Lincoln, Nebraska, during the state swimming prelims.
Jen Freeman, who is training for a 100 mile race, jogs through the snow in Millard, Nebraska. Freeman said that she has to train no matter what the weather.
Mesquite grilled eight-ounce filet with heirloom carrots and burnt end mac and cheese. J. Gilbertâ€™s Wood-Fired Steaks & Seafood serves dinner seven nights a week in Omahaâ€™s Capitol District.
UNO's Matt Pile (40) gets tangled with Western Illinois' Zion Young (1), left and Brandon Gilbeck (52) in the first half as the University of Nebraska at Omaha hosts Western Illinois at the Baxter Arena in Omaha, Nebraska.
Omaha Burke assistant wrestling coach Jesse Peters takes a rest before the start of the semifinals at the CHI Health Center in Omaha, Nebraska, during the Nebraska State Wrestling Tournament. Peters said the nap helps him get through the long tournament days.
South Dakota State's Mike Daum (24) scores a basket against UNO. UNO played South Dakota State in a men's basketball game at Baxter Arena in Omaha, Nebraska.
UNO's Ayo Akinwole (10) drives past Western Illinois' Keshon Montague (22) in the first half as the University of Nebraska at Omaha hosts Western Illinois at the Baxter Arena in Omaha, Nebraska.
Creamed corn with bacon is among many side items on the menu at J. Gilbertâ€™s Wood-Fired Steaks & Seafood in Omahaâ€™s Capitol District.
The UNO basketball team celebrates their 85-84 win over South Dakota State. UNO played South Dakota State in a men's basketball game at Baxter Arena in Omaha, Nebraska.
UNO's KJ Robinson (5) reacts after missing a shot. UNO played South Dakota State in a men's basketball game at Baxter Arena in Omaha, Nebraska.
Omaha Bryan's Ladamien Sturdivant, left, tries to keep a hold on Fremont's Cody Carlson during their Class A 126 pound semifinals wrestling match at the CHI Health Center in Omaha, Nebraska, during the Nebraska State Wrestling Tournament.
Lincoln Pius X's Kara Owens rises from the water as she competes in heat 2 of the girls 100 yard backstroke at the Bob Devaney Sports Center on Friday, Feb. 22, 2019, in Lincoln, Nebraska, during the state swimming prelims.
Hilary Sehring punches the speed bag during an exercise round at 9Round Fitness in Omaha, Nebraska.
Gothenburg's wrestling coach Tom Scott cheers on Gothenburg's Wyatt Hotz as he takes on Lexington's Brady Fago during their 132 pound semifinals wrestling match at the CHI Health Center in Omaha, Nebraska, during the Nebraska State Wrestling Tournament.
Seventh-grade students from Nathan Hale Middle School are reflected in a â€œThe New Negro Escapist Social and Athletic Club,â€ a portrait by Rashid Johnson while touring 30 Americans, an exhibition from the Rubell Family Collection at the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha, Nebraska. The traveling exhibit of 30 African American artists includes art with themes of slavery, the KKK and an emphasis on the beauty of black lives.
A man clears the snow from the top of a parking garage located near 10th and Jackson Streets in Omaha, Nebraska, after heavy snowfall.
UNO's Zach Jackson (21) delivers a slam dunk as teammate Ayo Akinwole (10) expresses his approval in the second half as the University of Nebraska at Omaha beats Western Illinois 77-63 at the Baxter Arena in Omaha, Nebraska.
Fremont assistant coach Cydney Granger cheers on Fremont swimmer Lauren Gifford in the girls 500 yard freestyle at the Bob Devaney Sports Center on Friday, Feb. 22, 2019, in Lincoln, Nebraska, during the state swimming prelims.
A pedestrian cruises past a sign of seasons to come in the window of Palm Beach Tan, 5417 S. 96th Street in Omaha, Nebraska.
UNO's Ayo Akinwole (10), left, drives around South Dakota State's David Jenkins (5). UNO played South Dakota State in a men's basketball game at Baxter Arena in Omaha, Nebraska.
Jim Stotts, of Glenwood, Iowa, walks a few laps around Stinson Park while passing time before going to see a movie at Aksarben Cinema, in Omaha, Nebraska.
Chris Kotulak, who is the Chief Operating Officer at Fonner Park, demonstrates how to play a PariMAX's historical horse racing game at the Fonner Park executive offices in Grand Island, Nebraska.
Western Michigan's Ethen Frank (26), Lawton Courtnall (10), and Hugh McGing (16) celebrate a goal during the second period of a college hockey game at Baxter Arena in Omaha, Nebraska.
People jog through the snow at Lake Zorinsky in Omaha, Nebraska.
Gage Beins, right, dumps snow on his friend Jeremy Boyd as they goof around in the snow at Lake Zorinsky in Omaha, Nebraska.
Jamie Kotera, 59, of Springfield, Nebraska, who works out five times a week is seen during her strength training workout with personal trainer Tyler Kottas at Better Bodies Fitness in Omaha, Nebraska.
A deer forages for food at Chalco Hills Recreation Area in Omaha, Nebraska, as snow falls.
A red-tailed hawk stands in the grass near 144th Steet and Giles Road in Omaha, Nebraska. He soon took off again as the light changed and traffic began to move.
Intern Daniel Holm, left, works with stage manager Amy Thomas backstage. The two were keeping track of the play as it progressed to know when they needed to make scene changes. Cast members were rehearsing "The Hobbit" at the Circle Theatre in Omaha, Nebraska.
The kimchi ramen at Ika San, new in the Old Market, includes the restaurant's signature crispy pork belly and rich pork broth, plus house-made kimchi, which is fermented cabbage.
Tom Dahir clears the snow from his driveway in Omaha, Nebraska, near the intersection of 97th Street and W. Center Road after a heavy snowfall.
UNO's Zach Jordan (27) and Western Michigan's Cam Lee (28) battle for the puck during the first period of a college hockey game at Baxter Arena in Omaha, Nebraska.
Actor Patrick Brusnahan does his makeup before the start of rehearsal. Brusnahan played the dwarf Bombur. Cast members were rehearsing "The Hobbit" at the Circle Theatre in Omaha, Nebraska.
Diederick Dillon, an Omaha Burke junior, clears snow from his car in the school's parking lot in Omaha, Nebraska. Omaha Public Schools were let out early because of the weather. Dillion said he was headed straight to work, despite being let out of school early.
A woman makes her way to a store as snow falls at Village Pointe in Omaha, Nebraska.
Milliner Margie Trembley designs, constructs and sells hats from her shop called Margie Trembley Chapeaux in Springfield, Nebraska.