Thursday, May 29, 2003

Voters to decide justice center issue

By Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer

FAIRFIELD - City Council has agreed to vote next month whether to place the controversial issue of location of the justice center on the fall ballot.

The move would require five votes of the seven-member council to go on the ballot. Council will vote at its 7 p.m. meeting June 9.

If the issue goes on the ballot, it would be the first time in the city's history since Fairfield adopted a city charter form of government in 1979 that council voted to put a matter on the ballot that wasn't required by law.

But Councilman Mark Scharringhausen says a public vote is necessary now in light of controversy over the issue. In a surprise recent vote, City Council narrowly approved moving the justice center from Ohio 4 to a city-owned piece of property just outside Village Green, the new downtown.

That decision, made at a work session, upset many in the community who do not want the city's police station and courts so close to Village Green. They want the 8.5-acre parcel, at Wessel Drive and Pleasant Avenue, to hold development that resembles Village Green's shops, restaurants and other offerings.

"It's prudent to take a step back and ask the voters to make the decision," Scharringhausen said. "It's the residents' downtown. They are footing the bill."

The city must expand its current justice center soon. Quarters have grown so cramped, 45 male officers must share a single restroom and citizens sometimes must be interviewed in the parking lot for privacy.

The municipal court, too, is lacking in space. Fairfield Municipal Judge Joyce Campbell has said she has bailiffs working out of broom closets.

But the abrupt location decision also upset some council members who wanted to continue studying other sites and pay for a market study.

Taking the issue to voters now, they say, will not interfere with the facility's construction, which isn't scheduled to begin until 2005.

Councilman Steve Miller, however, is opposed to a public vote, saying it could be a waste of more time and money. The issue, he stressed, already has been debated for the past two years.

If there is upset now in the community, he said, residents should petition for a referendum.

Miller also is concerned that a public vote will set a bad precedent.

"When you begin to waffle on your decisions, it's going to make it hard to accomplish anything down the road because you have already set the precedent that you can't make a decision," he said.


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