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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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County Moves Toward Mental Health Court

Issue Date: April 12, 2018

Creation of a Mental Health Court for Marinette County, similar to the highly successful Drug Court in the very near future appears to be almost a certainty. The idea has strong support from the Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee and at separate meetings of the Law Enforcement and Finance Committees on Monday, April 9. Financing for additional personnel and psychiatric services needed for the program was approved. County Board is expected to act on that funding at its meeting on Tuesday, April 17.

At the start of the April 17 meeting six newcomers to the board, along with 24 incumbent supervisors returning for new 2-year terms, will be officially sworn in by Circuit Court Judge James Morrison.

Newly seated supervisors will be write-in candidates Jillian Schutte for District 19, and Chris Gromala, District 18; ballot candidates Bonnie Popp, District 7, Robert Hoyer, District 8, and Gail Wanek, District 24, plus John Guarisco, District 9, who was formerly a supervisor and is returning to the board after an absence of several years.

In accord with new County Board rules approved at the March 27 board meeting, the session will open with a moment of silent reflection rather than the invocation and/or moment of silent prayer that previously started the biannual reorganization.

After administering the oaths of office, Judge Morrison, who heads the Drug Court and has been one of the strongest proponents of a Mental Health Court for Marinette County, will address the board on that issue, and later in the meeting the board is being asked to approve a purchase of service contract with Karen Butler, MD. to provide telehealth psychiatrist services for $18,900 a year; adding $20,128 to the Advanced Correctional Healthcare contract for additional services in the jail in connection with Mental Health Court, and $48,944 to increase the job of the Health and Human Services Department's After Hours Crisis Worker from quarter time to full time to provide mental health case management. If approved, that change to facilitate Mental Health Court will become effective on Monday, April 23.

Sheriff Jerry Sauve also has been a vocal supporter of the Mental Health Court proposal and has said at numerous meetings that many of the jail inmates should really not be there, but the public needs to be protected.

At its meeting on Monday, April 9 the Finance Committee approved all the necessary fund transfers, which total about $87,000, and these are the transfers County Board will be asked to approve on April 17.

Sheriff's Department Jail Administrator Bob Majewski, who also chairs the Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee, told the Law Enforcement Committee on Monday, April 9 that there are currently 11 inmates in the Marinette County Jail who would probably qualify for the Mental Health Court and benefit from it. Other conversations have placed the county per inmate costs at $80 per day.

In formal presentations for the Law Enforcement and Finance committees, Majewski said creation of a Mental Health Court is not a new concept for Wisconsin counties. County Administrator John LeFebvre said four other Wisconsin counties, including Brown and Outagamie counties, have very successful Mental Health Court programs. Brown County Mental Health Court people have been providing information to the Marinette County planners, and have offered further assistance in getting it started.

"The Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee supports the development of a Mental Health Court program to address individuals in the criminal justice system that have failed community mental health treatment or have not been engaged in treatment, and end up in jail," Majewski's written statement began.

"Once these individuals are placed in jail minimal or no active mental health treatment is provided. These individuals tend to be repeat offenders since their mental health needs are not addressed when they are in the community. The development of a Mental Health Court program would address mental health treatment for these individuals under a court order to ensure medication compliance and treatment follow through.

"The Marinette County Treatment Drug Court program has been successful in reducing jail census for the county. The development of a Mental Health Court program would be designed similar to the drug court program and order individuals to follow through with treatment.

"Individuals with mental health needs in jail increase jail liability and quite often there is a need to segregate these individuals from the general population which causes operational issues within the jail, Majewski went on.

"Goal of the Mental Health Court program is to stabilize this population in the community to reduce the potential for these individuals to be disruptive in the community, subsequently leading to arrest, jail time and court appearances."

He said development of a Mental Health Court Program would further keep the jail census at a manageable level and not require the county to build an additional jail pod to house inmates.

He explained that the Mental Health Court program would do assessments to identify individuals in jail who should be considered for the program. A licensed mental health professional would provide diagnosis and begin treatment in the jail before the individual is released. A referral would be made to the District Attorney for legal consideration and then staffed by the Mental Health Court program for admission. Treatment would begin in the jail setting to ensure continuity of care upon discharge from jail.

"Development of the Mental Health Court program would require mental health treatment programming to be increased in the jail, a mental health case manager to coordinate activities of the Mental Health Court program and a psychiatrist through tele-health to provide medications and psychiatric care when individuals are placed in the community.

"To accomplish this, the jail would contract for an additional 8 hours per week of mental health programming at a cost of $20,128. The Marinette County Health and Human Services Department would increase the current quarter time crisis worker position to full time equivalent position to provide mental health case management for the Mental Health Court program at an additional cost of $48,944.30 including salary/fringes. The tele-health psychiatrist time required to support the program is 9 hours per month at an additional cost of $18,900.

"The Health and Human Services Department and other community mental health providers would assist the Mental Health Court program to provide treatment to participants admitted to the program. The jail has identified 11 individuals that would be eligible for the Mental Health Court program at the onset. Based on the resources being proposed it is estimated that the maximum number of participants may be limited to around twenty," Majewski concluded.

HHS Director Robin Elsner told the committees that many of the mentally ill inmates have not been taking their medications, and through Mental Health Court they would be ordered by the judge to take them and there would be follow up testing to be sure they do. If not, they will either go back to jail or to a mental hospital. Elsner said individuals assigned to Mental Health Court, like those assigned to the Treatment Drug Court, will need to follow a very strict set of rules and will be closely monitored. Each will be assigned a case worker to oversee and monitor their condition.

After being sworn in at the outset of Tuesday's meeting, supervisors will elect a chair and vice chair for two-year terms. Incumbent Chair Mark Anderson has announced that he is a candidate for re-election. It is not known if there will be other nominees.

Once the chair and vice chair are selected the chair will appoint members of a Committee on Committees, and after the appointees are confirmed the full board will recess while they meet to name committee members. When they return the full board will vote on the committee assignments and the reorganizational meeting will adjourn. The board will then reconvene for its regular monthly meeting.

The board will be operating under new rules and new committee structure adopted after long discussion at an Executive Committee meeting on Tuesday, March 13.

There currently are 10 standing committees, and under the new format there will be only five, each with six members, plus an Executive Committee made up of each committee chair and the County Board chair and vice chair. No other supervisors will serve on more than one committee. Meetings will be once a month, on pre-designated Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Another change in the new operating rules and procedures the board is being asked to approve will be elimination of the moment of silent prayer in favor of silent reflection, and a change in reimbursement for brief committee meetings that are held in conjunction with the County Board meeting.

That issue was brought up by Supervisor Robert Holley at the Executive committee meeting. He said some supervisors have been charging for a full $30 per diem for meetings that have been as brief as seven and 11 minutes, and were held immediately before or after a County Board meeting, so they were already there anyway, and collecting that per diem.

"I think that's an abuse of taxpayer dollars," Holley declared. He said the pay came to about $180 per hour.

He said a few weeks previous there had been a 3-minute meeting for which some charged the $30 per diem. "I believe the public would be outraged if they knew what was going on," he declared.

Corporation Counsel Gale Mattison said it used to be a rule that there would not be a second per diem for back to back meetings, but that was changed in 2015, and right now, some supervisors do charge for back to back meetings and some do not.

Mattison said if a meeting is cancelled in advance supervisors who show up anyway are not paid, but if there is no quorum, those who are there will be paid even if there is no meeting,

Supervisor Mike Behnke agreed there should be no separate pay for a short committee meeting right before County Board. Mattison recommended not setting a time limit because some supervisors might deliberately make meetings last longer. It was noted that some supervisors actually have charged consecutive per diems for three consecutive meetings in the same location.

Holley's suggestion for at least some change in this policy was finally adopted and included in the new rules, which state supervisors shall receive $50 per diem for each regularly scheduled monthly County Board meeting attended and $30 for all other meetings attended, not to exceed three claimed meetings per day. Claims for additional meeting payment in any given day shall be made only if such meeting, because of its nature, time or location, caused the meeting to be held separately. A provision added is that a meeting held within one hour prior to a County Board meeting or held during a County Board recess is not considered a separate meeting. County Board supervisors also receive an annual salary of $2,400 a year, which was not changed.

Other action items for the regular meeting will likely include approval of a Highway Committee recommendation to open limited county highway segments to ATV travel to connect trails, and possibly an agreement with the Ski Cats to again use Lake Noquebay Park as the home base for their water ski team performances and practices. That agreement is to be considered by the Forestry, Parks and Recreation Committee at its 9 a.m. meeting on Thursday, April 12 at the Peshtigo Highway Shop.


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