The old Rock Island County courthouse, with boarded-up windows on the ground floor, is seen behind a tree marked with a red “X” Monday.

You don't have to have a dog in the courthouse fight to feel bitten.

And I'm not talking about the legal dispute over demolition of the Rock Island County-owned building. There's been so much bad information floating around, it's a wonder taxpayers aren't gathering on the lawn with pitchforks.

The chief problem, at least in recent experience, has been the misinformation dished up by a member of the construction team, which has been in direct conflict with intel supplied by county officials.

Phil Thiele, project manager for primary contractor Gilbane Building Co., said Sheriff Gerry Bustos asked an expert to study the courthouse trees and determined a half-dozen of them are dead. As a result, red X marks were spray painted on the trees to identify which ones are to be removed.

The problem is: An arborist did look at the trees last summer after two people were killed by a fallen limb at a Fourth of July event. But only one of the remaining trees was declared a danger, Bustos said Tuesday.

So why, I asked, are at least four other trees marked for removal, including two magnolia trees that currently are in bloom?

"I don't know," Bustos said. "I've instructed virtually everyone I can find to leave everything alone."

Could it be that the spray-painted trees are simply inconveniently located, and the demo contractor has decided to get them out of the way?

"There may be a day that comes true," the sheriff said Tuesday. "That's not today."

Bustos has been in contact with those who are fighting the courthouse demo to let them know of the necessity to remove the one dangerous tree, he said, and it's likely to happen in coming days.

Seems reasonable.

What about Thiele's statements earlier this week about a pending contract for repairs to the courthouse roof?

"I don't want anyone else talking about that building but me," Bustos said. "It's just conflicting (information). That building is owned by Rock Island County. Me, as sheriff; I'm in charge of it."

Speaking of which, I asked Bustos why so many people are acting like the damaged roof is news. He told the county board all about the damage — even showed them pictures — at their Feb. 19 meeting.

"I told them before that!" he said, clarifying that he told the County Board in January about holes in the roof that resulted from asbestos removal. At the time, the courthouse was slated for demolition, and the asbestos had to go. Though the demo status now is in legal limbo, county officials were cool at the time, Bustos said, to get rid of the material hazard.

"The court has said to hold on, so that's what we're doing now," he said.

The sheriff said he insists on being "very respectful" of the court order to halt demolition, but he is "unaware of any order to fix the roof."

And he's said before that he's not interested in spending taxpayer money "on a building with no future," but the decision on whether to repair the roof belongs to others, so he's been talking it over with the County Board chairman and county administrator.

The cost of roof repairs would come out of the general fund, he said, and a decision is expected in the next couple of days.

"If they want to do something with it, I'll be respectful of that," Bustos said. "But I'll contend as I've always contended: Rock Island County is broke."

True that. But broke people deserve the truth, too.

"What may have seemed confusing a day ago — we've gotten to the bottom of, and we're all on the same page now," the sheriff assured.


But something else occurred to me while walking the perimeter of the safety fence around the courthouse this week: Remember when the sheriff declared that one reason the courthouse has to go is that it presents security threats to the new building? He talked about the potential for sniper fire from various elevations of the old building.

If the courthouse is torn down, though, I noticed Tuesday that it would open up a direct line of fire from the bell tower on the old church across the street (and TV has taught us that snipers love bell towers). There's also another vacant building on the north side of the new courthouse annex. Are we going to tear those down, too?

But I exercised uncharacteristic restraint and let the argument lie.

Given the seemingly endless frustrations to befall the sheriff, regarding the whole courthouse issue, it seemed best to let it go. Plus, I reminded myself I don't have a dog in this fight.


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Contact Barb Ickes at 563-383-2316 or bickes@qctimes.com.