RIC Courthouse-002

The Rock Island County Courthouse was built between 1895-97. The building is distinguished by round-topped entrances and windows, balconies and originally at least six domes. The domes were removed in 1958. The exterior of the four-story building is made of Bedford limestone. Inside, floors in the central rotunda area and the corridors are made of marble or tile.

Kevin E. Schmidt

For four years, Rock Island County supervisors have argued about the future of the old courthouse.

That's the same amount of time American physicists spent developing the atomic bomb. It took Charles Darwin about that long aboard the HMS Beagle to formulate his theory of natural selection. It's the length of the American Civil War.

A lot of weighty, seminal things can happen in four years. But it's apparently not enough in Rock Island County, where elected officials lack the clarity to, finally, make a decision about the courthouse's future.

County Board members would rather kick this can for another six months and avoid the political fallout from actually staking a position. 

There was talk about an up-or-down vote on Wednesday that would finally force board members to stop the dodging and do their jobs. The County Board's Committee of the Whole would vote on whether to raze the courthouse -- consistent with Chief Judge Walter Braud's position -- or not. Technically, the vote would have been to hand the deed to the Public Building Commission, which would fund the demolition. 

They've heard from vocal preservationists who demand the 121-year-old building find new life as a museum or office complex. They've heard from engineers who place a $20 million price tag on rehabbing the long neglected building. They've heard from the private sector, through its total silence, that there's no interest whatsoever in pouring stockholders' cash into an out-of-date building that languished for years without appropriate maintenance and care. 

Board members have heard all they need to hear. Tradition holds that now's the time for a vote. 

But, yet again, some Rock Island County Board members are looking to duck the issue. New proposals have cropped up -- and are expected to be introduced Wednesday -- that would give the county until June or July to find a new use for the building. If, at that point, no entity has come forward to fund the building's rehab, then it would come down. At least, that's what proponents of this newest stall tactic say. 

The "give it another six months" resolution might not sound so egregious on its face. But that's true only if one trusts the County Board to follow through at the deadline. Legislation can be rescinded. And, judging by the years of senseless sniping and lawsuits, board members have no desire to stand up to a tiny, vocal minority that would stall this matter for another four years if they could.

Only in a politically busted government could turn an issue so cut and dry devolve into a power struggle. Judge Braud says he has the authority to tear down the courthouse. Board members rightly counter that Rock Island County holds the deed to the building.

Braud's aggressive assertion of his power is undemocratic and wrong-headed. But his frustration with the County Board's prolonged unwillingness to settle the matter with a vote is completely understandable. 

And there can be no doubt that Braud's lawsuit -- forcing the county to build a modern judicial complex -- fostered bad feelings that now fester within this utterly pointless fight over the old courthouse.

There's a small, vocal group of preservationists that would like Rock Island County taxpayers to pour tens of millions into the old courthouse. They'd like it adorned with marble and gold leaf. They'd like a county that struggles to provide basic services to rehab a building that's unsuited for the application of law in the the 21st century and has been rejected by the private sector outright.  

The courthouse spat has damaged Rock Island County. It's driven unnecessary wedges between the legislative and judicial branches. It's sapped energy and political headwinds from legitimately consequential issues. It feeds off resentment and power struggle. 

The County Board doesn't need another six months. It's had four years already.

It's time for an up-or-down vote. 

Local editorials represent the opinion of the Quad-City Times editorial board, which consists of Publisher Deb Anselm, Executive Editor Autumn Phillips, Editorial Page Editor Jon Alexander, Associate Editor Bill Wundram and community representative John Wetzel.

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