Thursday, February 25, 2010

Law and Order in the Ozarks (Part L): Federal stimulus funding sought for jail

Law and order news dominates the front page of the February 18, 2010, issue of the Newton County Times. First, the county has decided to seek federal stimulus (ARRA) funding of up to $200,000 to help finance its new jail. This is a turnaround from earlier indications that the stimulus money came with "too many strings attached." See a post here. The paper is still doing some front-page editorializing about the federal funding, noting "red tape and paperwork" and writing:
Stimulus legislation also includes a little-known provision that some critics contend wastes tax dollars and costs jobs. All $188 billion worth of construction projects funded in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act must pay Davis-Bacon prevailing wage rates. This requirement, critics contend, inflate construction costs and depress the economy.
Then, however, the paper tells the other side of the story:
Supporters consider Davis-Bacon an important means of preventing the government's buying power from distorting construction labor markets. In areas where the government is the largest buyer of construction services, it could use its negotiating power to lower construction wages.
After a 3-paragraph digression about the pros and cons of Davis-Bacon in relation to federal stimulus funds used for constructions projects, the journalist reports that the county has decided to seek the funds because the county judge (the chief administrator) has re-evaluated the reporting requirements and believes they will not be too onerous after all. Surely the main reason for seeking the funds is that the county is eligible for twice as much money under the ARRA program than under the alternative USDA Rural Development grant program. Even with the $200,000 in ARRA funds, the county will fall about $250,000 of the $2 million budgeted cost for the new jail.

In other news, David Middleton was flown to Newton County in a military helicopter to appear in relation to various charges, including several attempts to escape custody, including during the execution of a search warrant at his home in November, 2009. Middleton later also tried to escape from a hospital where he had been taken, still in custody, after feigning health problems. Finally, he is charged with conspiracy to kidnap the Sheriff's son and with conspiracy to intimidate a witness. (Read more here). The helicopter transport from a neighboring county where he is being held to Newton County was made because of his repeated escape attempts. Middleton entered not guilty pleas on all charges. Interestingly, Middleton did not have a lawyer representing him, and the prosecutor indicated that he had given Middleton an "application" for a public defender. Middleton recently pleaded guilty on federal drug charges, a matter in which he was presented by a federal public defender.

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