DAKOTA CITY | Space is tight and offices are a little crowded, but Dakota County Sheriff Chris Kleinberg said his department's new surroundings are perfect.
On Friday, oversight of the Dakota County Jail will be the sheriff's responsibility for the first time since 2007.
As a result, Kleinberg has moved his offices from the Law Enforcement Center in South Sioux City to the jail in Dakota City, where county officials said the sheriff belongs.
"It just makes sense that the sheriff is in the courthouse," Dakota County Board of Commissioners chairman Scott Love said.
Not only will he now be better equipped to oversee the jail's daily operations, Kleinberg said, his office can respond to any courthouse security situations quicker than when the office was located in the LEC.
"It's been my contention since Day 1 that the sheriff be at the courthouse," Kleinberg said. "It's a lot more comforting for me and I hope the rest of the elected officials that we're here now."
County board members are comfortable with the sheriff resuming control over the jail. It's a sign, they say, that the troubles of a past administration are behind them and the facility is once again operating the way it should.
"As far as the board's concerned, we are very happy with (Kleinberg)," commissioner Tony Gomez said.
In 2007, the county board stripped then-Sheriff James Wagner of control over the jail after 12 jail staff members sued the county alleging Wagner and then-Chief Deputy Rod Herron subjected them to sexual harassment and discrimination. Those lawsuits were later settled out of court, and Kleinberg defeated Wagner in the 2010 Republican primary. Herron resigned before Kleinberg took office.
To gain control over the jail's operations, the county board formed the board of corrections, which consisted of the five commissioners, and hired an administrator who reported directly to them. Terry Kern took over as administrator in 2008 and improved the facility, which in 2014 won an excellence award from the Nebraska Commission on Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice.
Kern resigned for personal reasons in July, and Kleinberg has been overseeing the jail since then.
Even before Kern's resignation, the county board was considering changes.
"When Terry resigned, we were kind of looking at letting the sheriff take over anyway," Love said.
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In August, the board of corrections voted to dissolve and do away with the jail administrator's position, actions that take effect Friday. Kleinberg will continue to give monthly reports to the commissioners.
The move made sense for a couple of reasons, Love said. One was the board's satisfaction with Kleinberg. The second was saving some $70,000 by eliminating the administrator's position.
"It's helped the budget out tremendously," Love said.
Kleinberg said he's been able to save approximately $300,000 through staff consolidations enabled by retirements and departures of other workers. Those savings will come in handy as Kleinberg seeks to upgrade the jail's computer software and security cameras.
He'll also be looking for solutions to ease conditions that have become increasingly crowded in the 136-bed facility. Two weeks ago, the jail was at capacity, though the inmate total had dropped back to 115 at one point last week. Kleinberg said he hopes to work with the judges and court system to use house arrest and electronic monitoring as a way to allow nonviolent offenders to serve time outside of jail, making cells available for more inmates.
The sheriff also brought up the possibility of jail expansion. Built in 2006 and opened in early 2007, the facility was designed so that a 50-bed addition could be built in a second phase of construction.
"In the long term, as the population grows in this area, obviously jails are going to have to get bigger," Kleinberg said.
There have been no discussions about jail construction, board members said.
"At the present time, I don't think it's possible to do the second phase of our jail because the county budget isn't the greatest," Gomez said. "An addition to the jail, that's something we need to sit down and think about, but we have no intentions right now."
The increase in jail inmates, he said, is due in part to large ongoing construction projects in Sioux City such as CF Industries and the Seaboard Triumph Foods pork plant, projects that have brought hundreds of temporary construction workers to the area. Gomez said the county will get a better idea of what it faces once those projects are completed and the workers leave.
Love said he wasn't concerned with the number of inmates in the jail. It's been high before, and it's always gone back down.
"I think it will be fine," he said. "I hope it will be fine."