picture by: Ashley Golledge
Previous County Commissioners Nancy Thellman and Michelle Derusseau tackled a whole lot of huge jobs in their time in county federal government — a new behavioral health campus, legal justice reform initiatives, a revamped set of land use laws — but some of their proudest achievements are a great deal scaled-down and far more own.
Resolving a zoning challenge with a home. Assembly with a resident to assist them navigate the county’s regulations. And any other time when the County Fee straight assisted citizens out with the issues in their lives, no make any difference how little they could possibly feel from the outside.
“So considerably of what we do at the county is … the factors you never see or listen to about at our conferences,” explained Derusseau, who served on the commission for four a long time. “It’s particular issues that men and women need help with navigating the process or resolving (a dilemma). That’s our work — it is all about persons.”
Now, two new commissioners have taken the reins: Shannon Portillo, who gained in the 3rd District soon after Derusseau made a decision not to seek reelection, and Shannon Reid, who defeated Thellman in the 2nd District Democratic primary. And Derusseau and Thellman the two hope their successors will preserve county govt concentrated on the men and women it serves.
That is particularly important through a time of political unrest this sort of as the riots at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, Thellman said. She said that community governments need to established a fantastic case in point and present that they treatment about their constituents.
“It’s so fundamental, but I hope the fee will perform specially tough to design very good governing to support folks have self-confidence, even if it is just at the nearby stage, to know their tax bucks are very well used and their wants are attended to,” mentioned Thellman, who served on the fee for 12 yrs.
Solving constituents’ troubles often necessitates commissioners to get acquainted with components of the county they are not as acquainted with, Derusseau reported. The new commission consists entirely of Lawrence residents, and Derusseau claimed she hoped the commissioners would journey all over the county and see firsthand the difficulties that rural citizens were being enduring.
“I just hope they bear in mind it’s all about people today,” she explained. “You have to actually go see all of these locations to get a entire understanding about what you are about to make a selection on.”
image by: Ashley Golledge
Tasks huge and small
Thellman and Derusseau explained they had been very pleased of many large jobs the county had carried out above the previous couple years — like very obvious types like new behavioral health and fitness initiatives and amenities, as perfectly as subtler matters like land use rules that quite a few county inhabitants wouldn’t be knowledgeable of.
The most important of the county’s behavioral overall health initiatives, a new campus in northern Lawrence for psychological ailment and substance abuse remedy, is below building now. Two of the campus’ housing units were being lately finished, and function is ongoing on the campus’ behavioral overall health crisis and restoration center.
One factor about the undertaking that Thellman explained was unique was that it introduced together quite a few community corporations — main gamers like LMH Wellbeing and Bert Nash Community Mental Wellness Heart, as properly as more compact nonprofit companies — to work toward a prevalent goal. She claimed all those organizations would carry on to operate alongside one another and with the county to serve the campus’ clients.
The county also supplies funding for quite a few corporations that do other types of social company do the job, and Derusseau claimed she was proud that the fee aided them get the funding they essential. Amid the systems that stood out for her were being all those that assist homeless people, these as Artists Supporting the Homeless, a nonprofit that operates a respite residence in Lawrence.
But the commissioners also famous some of the county’s powering-the-scenes operate. From Thellman’s standpoint, some of the commission’s most crucial projects had been people that targeted on sustainability and land preservation. Those projects include things like a established of new land use laws a new extensive land use prepare that was designed along with the Town of Lawrence and the establishment of the Heritage Conservation Council, which focuses on preserving essential pure, cultural and historic websites in the county and oversees a grant program for all those forms of initiatives.
Individuals land use and conservation initiatives serve just one of the county’s critical targets, Thellman mentioned: to make sure that key farmland and the county’s historic destinations are preserved for potential generations.
“Those items are subtle, but terribly essential to our foreseeable future,” Thellman reported.
picture by: Ashley Golledge
An additional subtle thing the commission does is speaking to constituents a single on 1. Derusseau explained some of the ideal moments of her expression had been when she could sit down with inhabitants and assistance them solve their troubles or give them a superior knowing of how county government works.
“To me, people are some of my most rewarding (times) more than the final 4 yrs — getting there to aid when they necessary the assistance,” she stated.
Felony justice and the jail
There were instances throughout Thellman’s and Derusseau’s terms, even so, when some constituents accused the commission of being at odds with the public. And one particular of the most important flashpoints was a sequence of programs to increase the Douglas County Jail.
Overcrowding at the jail has been a perennial issue for the county. Over the previous couple of many years, the county designed a few of major pushes to construct an addition to the facility. The to start with just one was a proposed $44 million growth of the jail that would have been funded with part of the proceeds from a countywide 50 %-cent gross sales tax. But county voters defeated the gross sales tax evaluate in 2018 — 53% voted from the new revenue tax, and 47% voted for it.
With the profits tax proposal shot down, county leaders then considered a plan to extend the jail without having a new profits tax. The new plan was a scaled-back edition of the prior one, with a price tag of $29.6 million. County leaders stated the approach was essential to provide plenty of house to properly house inmates who could not be served with alternate options to incarceration. But some county residents disagreed, indicating that the revenue would be far better used on far more criminal justice reform courses and that inhabitants should really get to vote instantly on the project once again.
Sooner or later, in January 2020, the fee accredited the scaled-down jail expansion approach. All a few users — Thellman, Derusseau and fellow Commissioner Patrick Kelly — voted in favor of it.
But when the coronavirus pandemic emerged in the spring of 2020, the fact of the undertaking improved. Between other matters, the jail observed a spectacular minimize in bookings the county predicted that the pandemic would guide to a drop in tax income, which would make it more challenging to fund the growth and the commissioners questioned prison justice leaders to discover new means to lower bookings so they could supply plenty of area to keep inmates secure from the virus. The commissioners questioned to rethink the jail growth challenge, and in September 2020, they voted to abandon the challenge.
Even if that vote had turned out differently, the venture would however very likely have been doomed, because all of the candidates remaining in the County Fee races at that place experienced especially campaigned from the jail growth.
Looking again, Thellman and Derusseau mentioned that even though the jail expansion issue was controversial, the county was carrying out perform on felony justice reform at the exact same time. The two leaders ended up part of the county’s work to make new incarceration options like the behavioral wellbeing courtroom and the drug court, which were being also supposed to minimize the crowding at the jail.
“We made the headlines for the jail, and that upset an dreadful whole lot of men and women, but the work at the rear of that was also prison justice reform,” Thellman mentioned. “I’ll miss out on the prospect to continue on that function as nicely.”
There were also some priorities that Thellman and Derusseau wished they could have tackled right before their time in county office arrived to a near.
For Thellman, one of the biggest types was the generation of a strategy that would protect open up, undeveloped spaces in the county. She explained she had started doing work on that undertaking, which would safeguard “uniquely beneficial land” for all county citizens to use, but it is presently unfinished. She claimed she envisioned that the plan may well help the county overcome local climate alter, as perfectly.
“What we do with our land, soil, our forests, prairies and undeveloped regions actually issues in our capability to fight local climate transform,” Thellman stated. “When we never pay back awareness to that, then we are portion of the problem of weather change, and not part of the solution.”
Derusseau reported she desired to help operate on a few animal issues in the county, these types of as complications with vicious dogs — whilst she said the discussion ought to definitely concentrate on “irresponsible pet dog owners” somewhat than on the animals them selves. She claimed that she’d listened to from rural inhabitants whose livestock experienced been killed or maimed by canine and that she hoped far more discussions would arise on the subject in the long term.
Derusseau also pointed out that numerous initiatives, including the behavioral wellness campus, have been underway but not completed. But she reported the ball was previously rolling on all those concerns and that she was self-assured they would be in very good fingers with the new fee.
“I feel genuinely very good about exactly where they are, and they are heading to keep on to be a get the job done in development,” she said. “They are in superior condition and heading in the ideal route.”
Even if they did not get almost everything accomplished that they would have preferred, both of those Thellman and Derusseau claimed they had been satisfied to have built a variation in the county by way of their work. Echoing what they the two said throughout their closing assembly on Jan. 6, Thellman told the Journal-Globe she was grateful for the prospect to provide.
“It’s definitely a massive privilege and just one of the biggest joys of my lifestyle,” Thellman explained, thanking constituents and the county personnel. “I could not be prouder to be element of that corporation.”
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