When dozens of south-side residents gathered last night for a public hearing on Dane County's proposal to build a new work-release jail on Fish Hatchery Road, one woman sat quietly in the back of the room and listened. One by one, her neighbors got up and complained that Dane County's new jail -- expected to house nearly 450 inmates -- would harm their efforts to revitalize the troubled neighborhood, which has been plagued with drugs, crime and prostitution.
Finally, after an hour, the woman rose and addressed the assembled county officials, including Supvs. Carousel Bayrd and Matt Veldran and Sheriff Gary Hamblin.
"I'm Gene Parks' twin sister," she said. Her name was Irma Jean Iheukumere and, she reminded the crowd of her brother, the city's first African-American councilman, who died early last year. "I just wish he was here right now to comment to this issue."
"Oh, so do I!" interrupted Ald. Tim Bruer, who was helping Supv. Shelia Stubbs run the hearing. Both Bruer and Stubbs, who represent the south side, are adamantly opposed to building the jail there.
Iheukumere continued, noting that the county committee which selected the site did not bother to get input from the neighborhood -- something which would have upset her outspoken brother. "When you make your decisions, let us know," she said.
She sat down, upset. But a little while later, she stood up to speak again. "I just hate the feeling of deception!"
The south-side neighborhood is "overwhelmed," she said, before launching into an angry speech: "What's wrong with the west, east or north side? You hoity-toitys get away with your crap. You don't build in your own neighborhoods. 'I'll give money to them, but I don't want them living next door to me.'"
She shook her head. "I do feel like you're trying to hoodwink us. A lot of you are not going to be in this area. A lot of you have beautiful homes!"
Another public hearing is slated for Tuesday, Jan. 9, at the proposed site, 2302 Fish Hatchery Road, starting at 5:30 pm. Any decisions on the jail are subject to County Board approval.