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Commission Board Meeting on Wed, January 17, 2018 - 6:00 PM

Meeting Agenda: 


6:00 p.m.

(1) (a)  Consider approval of Commission Orders; and
(b) Authorize the transfer of $100,000 from the Register of Deeds Technology fund to the Technology fund (Kay Pesnell);
(c) Authorize staff to use the current signature set until the new signature set is programmed to update with new County Commission Chair (Marni Penrod)

(2) Consider approval of 2018 dust palliative program (Keith Browning)

(3) Commission discussion and decisions on Proposed Jail and Behavioral Health Campus Capital Projects.-(documents added from meeting)

(4) (a) Consider approval of Accounts Payable (if necessary)  
(b) Appointments  
-Board of Zoning Appeals (1) positions 10/17
-Building Code of Appeals Board (1) positions 12/16
-Community Corrections Advisory Board (1) position 
-Senior Services Board of Directors (3) positions
-JAAA Advisory Council (2) positions
 (c)  Public Comment
(d) Miscellaneous

(5) Adjourn

Related Document(s): 
Meeting Location: 
County Courthouse
Street Address: 
1100 Massachusetts Street, Lawrence, Kansas 66044
Meeting Minutes: 

January 17, 2018

Thellman called regular meeting to order at 6:00 p.m. on Wednesday, January 17, 2018 with all Commissioners present.

Thellman moved approval of the following Consent Agenda:
►  Commission Order Nos. 18-004 and 18-005 (on file in the office the County Clerk);
►  Authorized the transfer of $100,000 from the Register of Deeds Technology Fund to the Technology Fund to be used by other Douglas County land records offices; and
►  Authorized staff to use the current signature set until the new signature set is programmed to update with new County Commission chair.

Motion was seconded by Derusseau and carried 3-0.
Thellman moved to approve the 2018 Dust Palliative Program as recommended by staff and after receiving no public comment, to continue brokerage of a user-fee dust palliative program with 2018 user fee set at $1.45/linear foot ($1.05/l.f. for dust palliative material and water, and an additional $0.40/l.f. user fee to cover road preparation costs), plus an administrative fee of $60.00 per applicant, plus a late fee of $15.00 per application submitted after the deadline. Also permission to advertise for bidders once the application process has been completed. Motion was seconded by Derusseau and carried 3-0. 

The Board discussed and made decisions regarding the proposed Jail Expansion and Behavioral Health Campus capital projects.

Thellman began by outlining four decisions the County Commission planned to make after hearing comments from staff and the public. The four decisions included: project referendum, sales tax or property tax, timing of elections, and mail ballot vs. regular election.

Gary Bunting, undersheriff and Douglas County Jail Facility Administrator, provided an accurate comparison of Douglas County incarceration rates versus Johnson County with statistics back to 2013. Bunting said there is a huge difference. In 1987, Johnson County built an adult residential center due to a lack of minimum security beds at the jail and expanded in 1993 to a 398 bed facility that houses work release and reentry people.  All of our people that meet the same criteria are kept in our Douglas County jail. Those residential numbers need to be included to get an accurate comparison. Douglas County’s average length of jail stays are less, and our jail population is less. 

Bunting said his message to the public is that a lot of information has been researched. From his observation, the County Commission has put so much research into the topic and he thanked the Board for taking time and listening. When he is able to explain the whole package with all of the facts, it makes sense to people. No one wants to see their taxes go up, but those he’s talked to see it is worth it. The Board has heard mostly from the Sheriff and Bunting himself as administrators. He said we would be hard pressed to find another Sheriff that has put in the effort he has put into trying not to expand the jail. Our staff is crucial to our mission. However, we have reached a point where we don’t have an option on expanding. The jobs for staff have changed drastically over the past 20 years becoming increasingly more difficult. Officers are now in constant contact with the jail population. Staff carries out the mission objectives with integrity, trust, public safety, excellence and teamwork. Bunting said we are in a crisis situation. Officers are at 131% more risk of danger due to overcrowding in the jail. He also said Douglas County is unique and different than other counties in the state because we are doing it right. We offer programs to any inmate willing to participate and hopefully improve their chances of being successful once released. Bunting said staff accept the job to uphold the law and to protect our citizens and inmates of Douglas County and do it with professionalism and integrity. We as a community owe it to them to provide the safest place possible to work in and to give them the tools necessary to do their job effectively. Bunting said as a voter, he would support both initiatives.  

Sarah Plinsky, Assistant County Administrator, said she has never worked with a finer group of community partners. This process has taken several years to study. We started with a problem in mind and tried to find a solution regarding the need for better a mental health option in Douglas County. From that study came three areas of support: intervention with a crisis center, 24-hour observation and housing at $3.3 million, and a crisis team and crisis line to provide service to people where they are at $750,000; Recovery which includes two levels of housing (temporary and permanent); the temporary supportive housing will be provided by Bert Nash and DCCCA; Permanent supportive housing covered by the Housing Authority; and Prevention with a series of programs at a cost of $500,000 annually.

Thellman opened the item for public comment.

Jim Flory, 413 Lou Lou Lane, stated he wants people to realize that other than the Sheriff, the County Commissioners, are the only ones that are legally obligated to uphold and protect the public. Flory said this is one issue, and it regards the health, safety and welfare of the County. It all feeds together. He encouraged the Commissioners to take the items to the public vote as one item on the ballot. Flory added he applauds the Commission for stepping up to their obligations. The said others may disagree but they don’t have that obligation to carry out.

Joe Harkins, Lawrence resident, stated he wanted to emphasize this may be the end of the planning process, but just the beginning of getting the operation of the crisis center started which will be complicated. He urged the Commission to keep an eye on the ball and use the management structure in place to strengthen and be even more affective during the implementation and process stage.

Graham Kreicker, Lawrence resident, said he would like to see a better comparison of Douglas County to other surrounding counties regarding their incarceration numbers, especially those with mental illness. According to Kreicker, other counties seem to have enough beds for their inmates and haven’t been impacted by the increase speedy trials days from 90 to 150. He heard Wyandotte County is saving millions by diverting mental health patients from jail to mental health services, same way with Topeka. Kreicker suggested we should send our inmates to Johnson County because they have 300 open beds. He also had concerns of the number of minority inmates in our jail and the need for Douglas County to divert people with mental illness out of the jail and into services.

Thellman asked Bunting to respond to the comment from Kreicker that other surrounding jails have room for our inmates. She said it was her understanding we are getting calls saying the surrounding jails are full.

Bunting responded by saying he cannot respond on how the specific issue of the impact of the 90 to 150 day change has affected each individual county. He did say they have had multiple occurrences where they’ve had to pick up farmed out inmates because the other jails no longer had room, and usually at the last minute. In response to Kreicker’s concerns, Bunting said staff has presented many causes for the increase of incarceration numbers but you can’t put your finger on any one topic. He said in 1995, in the original study for jail it was predicted the jail would be over capacity in 2010 with 192 persons. If the jail expansion is approved by voters and by the time the expansion is built, this jail will have has gone 11 years past the proposed life span of the building. The population of Douglas County has grown. We are one of the fastest growing counties in the state. The statute did change regarding people’s right to a speedy trial. We, however, do not have the data necessary to estimate its impact.  You would have to compare the number of those who waived their right to a speedy trial at 90 days to those at 150 days.  You would also need to take into consideration the time it takes for cases to reach disposition during the two time frames.  There has been a huge increase in violent felony crime. Our court system is overburdened.  The case load of Douglas County judges is the third highest in the state. Bunting said the increase is a combination of things. However, we are always looking at innovative ways for better initiatives.

Gaughan responded to Kreicker’s concern about the number of African American inmates in our jail by saying the CJCC is working on two efforts toward that information: 1) a CJCC group is working on the front end of an intercept model to identify and evaluate practices and collect data to reform policy changes to help bring the rate of incarcerated people of color down; and 2) another group is looking at jail population and rate of incarceration of people of color in jail. They are looking at charges and length of stay, along with consistent factors across the population. They are looking at incarceration reduction from both angles. Gaughan said the subgroup has had an interview with a perspective analyst. The group is also working with the new police chief to get him up to speed on what the CJCC is doing. This is a data driven process and we are working at identifying any key discrepancies. Through the CJCC we are always looking at innovative alternates to incarceration.

In response to Kreicker’s comment of Johnson County having 300 beds available, Gaughan said he called the Johnson County Sheriff to verify. The reason they have 300 beds is because they do not have staffing to support filling the space. Johnson County also has a different philosophy. Their staff is not trained to rehab and reintegrate people back into the community as is the goal of Douglas County.

Thellman responded to Kreicker’s last suggestion that we would do well to build programs that would divert people from jail with mental illness, out of the jail and into services, by saying we are already doing that with the new behavior health court and other diversion programs.

Melinda Henderson, Lawrence resident, said it is difficult for her to support an increase in sales tax. She asked 1) if the entire half-cent sales tax will be an entire Douglas County tax including surrounding cities. Gaughan responded, yes, that is correct. 2) She asked if it is possible to make the tax on everything except food.

Thellman responded “no” that cannot be done. The tax is set by the Department of Revenue and local government has no authority to make that change. The Food Policy Council has already done research on that subject.

Joseph Harvey, Baldwin City, said he feels the crisis center and jail expansion should be a separate vote. He feels separating the vote is honest.

Ben MacConnell, Lawrence resident, said he has experienced both the criminal justice system and the mental health system and they both fell short. He feels combining the effort on the ballot is insulting. MacConnell said he contracted a state legislator regarding making an amendment to the language regarding a tax split and revision can be done within two weeks. He wants the Commission to give voters an option to vote to tax either or both the crisis center or jail expansion.

Thellman asked Craig Weinaug, County Administrator, to respond to the sales tax issue as commented on by MacConnell.  

Weinaug stated that the chair of the Committee that spoke with MacConnell, called Craig after his conversation with MacConnell. The Chair of the committee did not have an understanding that the statutes that apply to cities and counties on sales tax elections differ. There are options that a city has that a county doesn’t. The special legislation that provides for a half-cent sales tax election for Douglas County, for jail and mental health improvements does not provide for an option to split the vote. Changes to this provision would also require changes to the underlining county sales tax statutes that would impact all 105 counties. When the chair of the committee realized that the necessary changes to the statutes to enable a split of the two questions would impact all 105 counties he agreed that such changes would be a very difficult thing for the legislature to accomplish.

MacConnell stated that the article in the Journal World offered another solution to the sales tax option. Weinaug responded the quarter-cent sales tax would be more money than needed for the construction of the jail; a half penny would be more than needed for operating and capital costs. So the total cost to the taxpayer dedicating the sales tax to one project and property tax to another would actually increase the amount of tax necessary to complete both projects. The half cent would be too much for one of the projects causing more tax than you need for the project it is earmarked for. Then you would have to tax the full amount on property tax to cover the other project. The amount you would need to approve with the taxpayers is more than we are proposing.

Derusseau added the advantage of having mental health paid for with sales tax is that sales tax revenue increases each year  at a rate that historically exceeds the rate of inflation, property tax revenue as limited by the budget lid law, does not keep up with inflation.

Thellman offered to have MacConnell spend time with the Commission or staff, outside the meeting to discuss the technical answers to his questions so others will have an opportunity to speak.

Thellman responded to MacConnell’s statement that the County was unresponsive to the idea of trying to decrease our jail population and not taking any suggestions to do alternatives or diversions.  We have already listed the programs the CJCC has started to reduce jail numbers. She said thanks to the CJCC we have diverted over 100 people in these programs so far that would be sitting in jail right now and she believes those numbers will continue to improve.

Thellman said splitting into two quarter-cent sales tax options will shortchange the mental health program.

Bill Simons, Douglas County resident, said taxpayers are already paying for mental health services through our tax dollars because of the number of people in crisis. We need to attack the cause or wait for them to end up in jail. He asked if jail services and mental health services really differ. He said if you do nothing about the jail, inmates get killed and he asked who pays for it. The taxpayers.  Simons said for those who oppose the jail he asked them “what are our options?” He asked the opposing “What are you going to do about the overcrowding?” Not everyone can go to the mental health crisis center. Simons mentioned the two very high profile murder cases in the news and said they will not end up in the crisis center. He added we will always have some mentally ill people in jail. Simons said he will support both items and asked Justice Matters that he hopes there is enough mercy in their hearts to look at the children that are traumatized and get this passed.

At 7:30 p.m., the Board took a 10 minutes break to return at 7:40 p.m.

The board returned to regular session at 7:40 p.m.

Barbara Palmer, Lawrence resident, said if people had availability to 24-hour mental health services they may not end up in jail and that is not being considered in reducing the incarceration rate. She believes that is why other counties have been able to reduce their jail numbers.

The Board closed the public hearing.

Gaughan thanked the jail staff and said discussions on the need for a jail expansion started three years ago with the Sheriff discussing how he didn’t have the therapeutic space for mentally ill patients, and explained the challenges facing the female population in the jail that need to be fixed. Those facts were true three years ago and are still true today. Gaughan said he can’t shake the growth in our community. The population we serve in the jail has changed with 17.8% of people in the facility have persistent mental illness and we have no space for them.  The expanded alternatives that have helped a number of people divert is significant. We have an unprecedented level of collaboration between the partners to expand the level of services and alternatives to incarceration in our community. It has helped make what is a crisis less so. Gaughan stated he is overjoyed by the complexity of what staff and out community partners have put together is exceptional. He thanked Commissioners Thellman for her dedication to this project. Gaughan said he is emotionally invested in seeing the crisis center come together, have a system in place and to commit fully to having a better justice system. It takes all the pieces in place. These are commission initiatives he wants to pursue and he is ready to move forward with both projects together by authorizing legislation for a sales tax.

Derusseau said she wanted to address a couple of things. She heard comments tonight comparing our jail to other counties. She said let’s do that. Douglas County has one of lowest incarceration rates in the state, has one of the lowest recidivism rates in the state, has a nationally recognized reentry program, and our best practices have been nationally recognized with our personnel presenting at national meetings and conferences. These are all things we should be proud of in Douglas County. To have a county jail that is setting an example for those across the nation to follow is something to be proud of. As a county we have brought subject matter experts and local stakeholders together to implement programs designed when possible and safe to keep people out of jail. We have hired experts. We have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on pretrial programs, diversion programs, and a behavioral health court. We’ve provided funding for another Pro-tem judge as well as additional personnel for the DAs office. The result of all of this is we are averaging approximately 90 people in our pre-trial release program, about 25 people under house arrest, and about 15-16 in our behavioral health court. But even with all of that through no fault of our corrections department we are regressing. Even with people out of jail through our programs we are still averaging more than 50 people per day over capacity in our jail. Our County Jail has reached its life expectancy. Our taxpayers are spending approximately $1.5million per year to house inmates in other counties which was meant to be a short term fix. It wasn’t a permanent fix. It’s neither reliable nor is it sustainable. As mentioned earlier, we have situations arising where counties either don’t take our inmates because they are already full or they are calling for us to come back and pick them up because they are over capacity. The human toll on our inmates sitting in a cell many miles from home, many miles from their attorney, and far away from programs that are designed to help them succeed when they are released is morally irresponsible. We’ve had instances of multiple inmates sleeping in cells designed for one. That’s a safety concern. We’ve had instances of inmates sleeping on the floor of the laundry room and program rooms. It’s not only a safety concern; it’s inhumane. We do not have a pod for special needs inmates, a therapeutic environment designed to alleviate not exacerbate their condition. Because we are over capacity, classifications of inmates has broken down. Derusseau stressed this is not a road we want to continue down. As County Commissioners we have a responsibility to provide for the safety, and the wellbeing of the citizens of Douglas County.  That responsibility does not stop at the doors of the County Jail. We have a legal and moral obligation to those in our custody as well as to our corrections department to provide a facility, tools and funding necessary to care for those in our custody, ensuring their safety, with humane treatment and programs vital to their success. So as Commissioners we have to be realistic and responsible. We can’t just say “let’s not incarcerate people.” We can’t just say “let’s not incarcerate people for these particular crimes.” We don’t make the laws and we don’t tell the Sheriff how to enforce the laws or what laws to enforce. If you have concerns about laws and sentencing guidelines you need to address that in Topeka. It’s beyond our purview. Derusseau said what she found most disturbing about what she has heard tonight is nobody wants to focus on the great things we have done, or what our jail has been recognized for nationally. They are a leader in these programs. We need to recognize what we have and stop taking steps backwards and move forward. Even more disappointing and disturbing is the lack of concern and compassion she said she heard about the people in the jail. Derusseau said our concerns do not stop at that door. We have to take care of the people in there and right now it’s not suitable conditions. Derusseau said she is ready to move forward with both projects as one ballot item.

Thellman said she agreed with and was not going to repeat what was presented by her fellow Commissioners. She said she is hearing from the community that there is a choice between having a larger jail or a mental health initiative. This Commission does not believe that is an option. The question before the Board tonight is choosing how to finance an expanded jail, whether that be through some property tax and sales tax initiative. If we have to go back on a failed election, how do we then finance the building of the jail? Thellman said it is her sense the community needs a larger jail but it also wants desperately an improved mental health and substance abuse system. That’s the tremendous thing we all agree is needed and want very much. In order to have both those projects fit in a funding mechanism that we can enact sooner rather than later, we can do most of both of those things with a half penny sales tax. I think that more people than not will find that doable because of what is gained. The jail situation will be improved and the mental health system will be improved dramatically. A failed election on this half-cent sales tax will cause us to go back to finding a way to build the jail and that will probably mean setting aside the mental health initiative as we envision it until the jail expansion is built. That might mean building the jail in phases over a very much longer period of time and at a greater expense because inflation goes up every day we wait as does the materials. Every month we wait to get this done we know by calculations it goes up by $100K, and $1million per year. The cost of waiting is enormous and that is just in dollars, but the cost of human suffering is worth something too. We have been at this for years and have seen some great progress in terms of numbers at the jail. But, the time has come to answer a critical urgent need the Sheriff asked for a long time ago. Thellman stressed the half-cent sales tax gets both projects done which are both public facilities. In 1994, it was done with one ballot question that did a lot of things, a swimming pool, the Health Department building, and other public buildings. Thellman said when we outgrow our schools we build new ones or expand them. When the hospital couldn’t manage the population it was expanded. These are public buildings and can be on one ballot. We shouldn’t have to outsource our inmates when we know we give them better services.

Thellman said what we have before the Board tonight in a consensus is: 100% of the capital in debt service for the jail; 100% of the capital in debt service for the mental health campus; 100% of the operating support for the behavior health campus; approximately 1/6 of the operating support of the jail with the rest to be financed with property tax as the jail is fully operational with staff. If we were to choose a property tax increase it would be a double-digit increase or 30% mill levy increase. With the sales tax, the burden is shared through the community and with anyone who comes to our community. The timing of the election is May 18, 2018 mail ballot. 

Thellman asked staff if it is possible with more than half of the tax going to mental health campus, housing, and prevention, recovery and intervention services if we can explore putting the mental health at the top of the ballot question since it gets the majority of the money. Weinaug said staff is exploring that through the bond counsel and should have that information by the next County Commission meeting.

Thellman moved to asked staff to prepare the ballot language for a special mail ballot to finance jail expansion, capital and operation cost for mental health campus improvements. Motion was seconded by Gaughan and carried 3-0.

Thellman moved to approve accounts payable in the amount of $600.00 paid on 01/16/18, and $390,466.25 to be paid on 01/18/18.  Motion was seconded by Derusseau and carried 3-0.

Derusseau moved to appoint Ernest Dyer to the Jayhawk Area Agency on Aging Board of Director (JAAA) for a three-year term. He was in the past a City Appointment. He will be take a county appointment seat.  Motion was seconded by Gaughan and carried 3-0.
Gaughan movepd to adjourn the meeting. Motion was seconded by Thellman
and carried 3-0.

____________________________  ____________________________
 Nancy Thellman, Chair                     Michelle Derusseau, Vice-Chair
 ____________________________ _____________________________  
Jamie Shew, County Clerk                 Mike Gaughan, Member