Denver City Council members deadlocked Tuesday over whether to move forward on a $22.5 million contract for a new 256-bed jail annex, with debate intense on whether the facility was a waste of money or a necessary step in protecting the public.
With council members at loggerheads, the proposal remained stalled, at least for now, in the council's Health, Safety, Education & Services Committee. The issue will return to that committee Aug. 17 for another discussion.
Councilman Doug Linkhart, the leading opponent of the project, said that during those two weeks, he will continue to try to forge a compromise with Mayor John Hickenlooper.
Linkhart argues that the project at Smith Road is not needed and that the jail system already has adequate capacity to handle future growth in jail populations.
"We can't afford it," Linkhart said. "We don't need it, and there are better alternatives."
Jail officials are equally adamant that the new annex is needed to ensure there is sufficient space to absorb future growth in inmate populations. Those officials also say the current jail space the annex would replace is dangerous, and that new construction is needed to support the type of innovative, rehabilitation programming sought by Linkhart.
The plans at Smith Road were approved by voters as part of a $373 million justice- center package that also authorized a new courthouse and downtown jail along with the annex. Corrections officials plan to tear down seven buildings at the Smith Road location that they view as antiquated and construct the annex, build a new parking lot and improve landscaping.
The council committee deadlocked over whether to move the proposal forward. Council President Chris Nevitt, Carol Boigon and committee co-chairwoman Marcia Johnson supported moving the issue to the full council for final approval. But Linkhart attracted the support of the other committee members — committee co-chairman Paul Lopez and Judy Montero — in his bid for the two-week delay.
Linkhart said that if the committee remains deadlocked, he'll push for a six-month delay.
The Hickenlooper administration still could choose to formally submit the contract with FCI Constructors Inc. to the council. If the council does not reject the contract within 30 days after such a submittal, the contract would go into effect. A council member also can move the contract forward to the full council without the blessing of the committee, but council members tend to avoid such moves.