One of our greatest missions is to be a community watchdog. Olympian reporters have a long tradition of keeping the spotlight on officials and agencies, and keeping them accountable for the public’s trust and money.
A case in point is the Accountability and Restitution Center, the new jail that has been finished -- and empty -- for four years.
The Olympian has been writing about it for far longer than that.
The ARC saga began in the 1990s, when a growing jail population stressed the existing jail. County officials bought the former Tyson Seafood plant on Olympia’s west side for $3.8 million in 1997. The goal was to convert the building into a satellite jail holding 440 medium and minimum-security inmates, to open in 2001.
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Plans to convert the building ground to a halt in May 1999 when a consultant told county officials the new jail likely would be full in seven to 12 years.
County officials discussed options, including leasing out the building. Eventually it was used as a storage facility.
The county then tried to pay for a $103 million regional justice center with a bond proposal. The campaign to fund the jail was spirited and voters rejected the proposal in May 2004.
The county opted later that year to spend $24 million on the ARC.
By the end of construction two years later, the cost of the ARC was $48.14 million and the jail had 395 beds.
However, with the county strapped for cash, officials knew inmates couldn’t move into the new jail for at least another year. In the meantime, the county budgeted $400,000 per year to cover maintenance of the new building.
And there it sat. For four years. Commissioners and the sheriff told Olympian reporters and the editorial board that talks were at an impasse, partly held up by the need to restructure labor contracts to facilitate staffing the ARC.
We wrote more stories and more editorials, and still the ARC sat empty. Then, in December, we published the results of records requests to see how much money was available and how it was allocated. It appeared the two sides were not that far apart.
And they started talking again, leading to last week’s news that agreement has been reached, budgets have been adjusted and the ARC is expected to open within months.
It’s our job to hold a mirror up to public officials and to help keep their activities transparent to the people who put them into office. And then we tell you about it.
Thanks for reading.