One of the legislators suing Governor Branstad over the governor’s decision to close the Iowa Juvenile Home says Branstad has created more angst in Toledo by talking about demolishing residential cottages on the Juvenile Home campus. House Democratic Leader Mark Smith of Marshalltown says nothing should happen until the lawsuit’s resolved.
“Why are we starting to demolish? Smith asks. “And are we going to start taking this place down, piece by piece?”
Last year a watchdog group reported allegations of mistreatment of the some of the delinquent girls at the Iowa Juvenile Home. Branstad closed the home in January and ordered the teenagers there to be placed in private facilities, or sent back to their parents. On Monday Branstad said the Iowa Juvenile Home’s residential cottages didn’t meet state standards for privately-run facilities and he would be open to tearing down the cottages. The other buildings on the campus could be sold and used for educational purposes, according to Branstad. Smith says selling the state-owned facilities for pennies on the dollar isn’t going over well in Toledo.
“I talked to a group of people yesterday and they were very concerned about this happening and pointed out the millions of dollars of Iowa taxpayer money that has gone into those buildings,” Smith says, “recently about $10 million that went into them.”
Senator Steve Sodders, a Democrat from State Center, represents the Toledo area.
“Everyone is wholly against what the governor has done so far and also the demolishing of any of the campus,” Sodders says, “And, in part, because we still don’t know what the Supreme Court’s going to say.”
The lawsuit charges Branstad lacked the authority to act on his own to shut down the home. A district court judge agreed and the governor appealed the decision to the state’s highest court. Branstad on Monday suggested the Juvenile Home campus might be prime property for future development. Sodders doubts it could be used for industrial or business development because the campus sits right on the edge of Toledo.
“It’d be more for housing, if anything,” Sodders says. “There’s 27 acres there. Taxpayers already paid for most of all the upkeep — the curb, the gutter. It’s got geo-thermal, all those things, so if the governor wants to sell that off to a corporation, they’re getting a heck of a deal on the taxpayers’ dollar.”
The two maintenance employees at the Juvenile Home will be laid off June 30th. Governor Branstad used his item veto authority on a budget bill to cut their jobs. Branstad’s staff says employees from other state facilities will be sent to Toledo to cut the grass and do routine maintenance work there.