Government at all levels is often labeled as being cumbersome to the point of inertia. And sometimes that label is deserved. But, over the last few days, Boone County demonstrated an ability to be nimble, responsive, and moving at warp speed to meet an emerging and serious need.
It began when the City of Columbia’s Utility Department announced that it would begin cutting off delinquent accounts on Monday, October 5, only days away. As we faced a weekend with temperatures dropping into the low 40’s, my e-mail inbox was quickly flooded with requests that the County help to find a way forward so that those individuals and families, already adversely impacted by the COVID pandemic, would not needlessly suffer further.
Members of the Children’s Services Board, school principals, and other community leaders were among those who called attention to the catastrophic blow that this would deal to families already pushed to the edge by COVID and limited resources.
Because the County Commission represents all of Boone County, not just those who live in the city of Columbia, Presiding Commissioner Dan Atwill and I began by checking whether other utility providers here in Boone County were on a similar timeline as the City utility. Several emails to colleagues at Ameren revealed that Ameren had no immediate plans to cut off utility services and that, through the summer, they had been working with Central Missouri Community Action (CMCA). Since I serve on the CMCA Board, a call to Darin Preis, the Executive Director of CMCA, was only logical.
Darin quickly agreed that CMCA could serve as the administrator for CARES Act funding for utility assistance throughout Boone County, including for those facing imminent disruption of services in the City of Columbia. CMCA is uniquely qualified for this work. It has an extraordinary history of working in a transparent and accountable way with federal grant funding and it serves populations in need throughout central Missouri, including in Boone County.
We could not find a better partner.
During one of multiple conversations, Darin alluded to the contractual arrangement into which CMCA had entered with Callaway County for similar services, although on a much smaller scale than potentially would be the case in Boone County. Presiding Commissioner Atwill then quickly reached out to Callaway County Presiding Commissioner Jungermann to understand the process put in place in Callaway and to see if it could be replicated here.
Chad Martin, Boone County’s Director of Emergency Management, who is overseeing the online portal for CARES Act funding, CJ Dykhouse, Boone County’s Counselor, and Darin Preis were put in touch by phone and email so that they could collaborate and work out an agreement between the County and CMCA to help us ensure that CARES Act funding could be distributed quickly and equitably. Working evenings and through the weekend, these three readied the project to launch and by Tuesday, October 5, the agreement had its first reading at the morning Commission meeting. The required second reading is scheduled for Thursday, October 7 allowing CMCA to likely begin processing applications in the week of October 12.
It took one week. One week for multiple agencies to come together and create a solution to what could have been a catastrophic event for a host of individuals and families in Boone County. Instead of catastrophe, we will have used CARES Act funding to provide essential services for our county’s citizens in need, without compromising transparency or accountability.
Weeks like this make me proud to be part of Boone County government.
It occurs to me that one of the most important things for a candidate for County Commission to champion is the right to vote. It’s also an overlay for how I was raised and how I think.
One of my favorite memories of my Mom involves Election Day. No matter the year, no matter the political races on the ballot, as children, we watched as she voted in every single election—municipal, county, state, and national—and her actions spoke directly to her commitment to that privilege and as her right.
In later years, even as she began to experience physical limitations, she made certain that, for every election, she cast her ballot—always picking up our neighbor and good friend, Alice Neihardt Thompson (no relation, but that’s a whole other story) with her to the polling site so that the two of them could act on their best intentions.
Moms are wise that way. She understood that, if we do not vote, either through choice or apathy, we relinquish our say in how we are governed. She was old enough to understand the commitment that others who came before her had made to allow women and Black Americans the RIGHT to vote.
As we are approaching what would have been her 95th birthday—she was born on October 8, 1926—we are just six years shy of the 19th Amendment establishing the constitutional right of women to vote. In her stead, I’m compelled to urge any eligible person who has not yet registered to vote, to do so prior to the October 7 deadline.
But to honor all of the moms on whose shoulders we stand, registering is not enough! Vote on November 3! That would be the best birthday present any mom could ask for.
This Saturday morning, September 26, 2020, starting at 11 a.m., the City of Hallsville will hold an event designed to be a fundraiser for the Hallsville Police Department Foundation. The method chosen for the fundraiser is to put several candidates for office—for state representative and for county commissioner—into a mock jail until they raise enough money to “bail” themselves out.
While it is hoped that the day’s event provides much needed funding for the Foundation, the event actually highlights TWO aspects of the criminal justice system for which lack of resources is hugely problematic. The first is the cash bail system and the second is law enforcement itself.
For the fortunate many, the cash bail system is not a personal experience and usually is something only read or heard about—in the news, on a tv program, in a movie. But, for those brought to a county jail upon arrest, the question of bail is of primary importance since, if you can’t pay, you will stay in jail.
The event in Hallsville demonstrates this problem in stark relief. In advance of the event, I asked how much the Foundation hoped to raise from each candidate—the “bail.” I had the resources available and also recognized the Foundation’s needs, so I wrote a private check for $500. But, in the “real world,” what happens to those who lack those resources? What happens to those who have them? The difference is part of the problem.
For many people, it may seem logical and right that if a person is arrested because law enforcement believes that person has violated some statute, that person will be detained in the county jail. But, think about it: Susie and Joey both engage in the same conduct. They are arrested and taken to the county jail. Susie (or maybe Susie’s parents) has the ability to pay. Joey and Joey’s parents do not. Susie goes home pending resolution of her case. Joey sits in jail. As Joey sits in jail, he may lose his job; he and his family may lose their home; if he is in jail longer than 30 days, any federal benefits to which he is entitled, including Veteran’s and SNAP benefits, are suspended. And, remember, Susie and Joey are only detained—the constitutional presumption of innocence still applies to them both. Yet, because of Joey’s lack of financial resources, his situation is much worse than Susie’s.
It was in part because of that disparity that here in Boone County, a group of dedicated people created a Community Bail Fund project. Modeled on efforts begun and having success in other parts of the country, this group provides bail funding for individuals who, like Joey, simply lack the ability to pay.
Much work and discussion is ongoing in Boone County about when and why people should be detained in jail and when alternatives to detention should be considered. For many years, we have been leaders in the state through our use of Adult Court Services, which is intended to investigate and help the court determine that very question. A risk assessment—considering essentially whether the individual poses a risk of harm to the community and whether the individual is likely to show up for court—is done to help the court in making that decision.
Across the country, as well as locally, we are seeing the intersection of these two, interrelated aspects of the detention question. Judges, lawyers, community members and other policy makers are considering where and if a cash bail system is necessary, appropriate and philosophically sound. If the risk assessment process gives judges a data-driven basis for decisions on alternatives to detention, why then, some ask, is cash bail part of the discussion since, by and large, it doesn’t impact either risk of harm or risk of non-appearance. Others note that, in jurisdictions that have abolished the cash bail system, individuals are spending more and more days in jail. The conversation continues, as it should. And, the Hallsville event gives us the opportunity to add to that conversation.
The second issue highlighted by the Hallsville event, and the more readily apparent, is the lack of funding for law enforcement. This is an issue affecting practically every law enforcement agency in the country.
We count on these dedicated men and women to protect us—to serve and defend. We expect them to be available 24/7 every day of the year. Because we haven’t adequately funded social services FOR DECADES, we require law enforcement (and their brothers and sisters in Fire and EMS) to act as mental health professionals, even asking them to save those who might be attempting suicide. Yet, we fail them miserably when it comes to providing them adequate resources. And, I’m not just talking about guns. I’m talking about getting them ALL of the resources they need to do the tasks we pile on their collective plates.
If, for example, we will continue to ask that they respond alone to those in mental health crisis, we must give them access to Crisis Intervention Team training, a 40 hour interactive course that provides them with at least a modicum of skills to de-escalate confrontations and connect individuals with appropriate resources. Access to CIT training doesn’t just mean funding for the training. It means ensuring that, in a one, or two or three-person office, they have the personnel required to allow each member of that office to be out of the rotation for that week-long training.
We MUST support law enforcement. We MUST give them the tools, including training, that will allow them to make the best decisions, that will allow them to protect and defend.
We called her "The Notorious RBG." Despite the public, widespread knowledge that she had metastatic pancreatic cancer, I suspect that we hoped she was, in fact, "The Invincible RBG," that her body wouldn't fail her––or us. But, on September 18, 2020, on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, despite our hopes, what we knew would happen some day, and what her family had been preparing for, it happened.
Justice Ginsburg, while tiny in physical stature, was a force to be reckoned with––as a student, as a professor, as a jurist. Her work, with its well-known focus on equality issues, especially involving gender equality, helped to change the way in which we view and address those issues. The depth and breadth of her work is too important to try to glibly gloss over it with a few sentences. Instead, I'd like to focus on the answer Justice Ginsburg gave when asked how many women on the Supreme Court would be enough. She famously responded, "when there are nine."
That, to me, is the essence of Justice Ginsburg's work. Think back just a few years. Until 1981 (the year I entered law school), when Sandra Day O'Connor was appointed to the Supreme Court, only men had ever served on the Court. Until 1967, when Thurgood Marshall was appointed to the Supreme Court, no person of color had ever served on the Court. Now, only one person of color is currently sitting Supreme Court Justice, and, until this weekend, the most women to serve at the same time has been three.
"When there are nine" means that, for Justice Ginsburg's work to reach fruition, to be complete, we will find it normal, not odd, not unusual…
• for all members of the Board of Directors of a major corporation to be people of color
• for all members of the MU Board of Curators to be women
• for leadership in corporate America and local, state and national government to truly reflect the makeup––race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, ability and disability status––of the people.
At that point, the work of Justice Ginsburg, and the promise of those first words of the United States Constitution, "We, the People," will be fulfilled. Then, every person will be judged and rewarded, not based on the color of her skin, her gender, or any other factor, but rather on the content of her character.
It is fitting that, if we must lose Justice Ginsburg, she leaves us as Rosh Hashanah began since it is said that a person who dies on the eve of or during Rosh Hashanah is a "tzaddik," a person of great righteousness.
Farewell and shalom, Justice Ginsburg.
This week I had a birthday. Like Karen Miller, my former colleague on the County Commission (who so generously asked her Facebook friends for birthday contributions to my campaign), I love to cook and to bake! So, to celebrate my birthday week, I’d like to share two of my favorite recipes as a thank you in advance for considering a contribution to my re-election campaign for Northern District Commissioner.
A successful baking product is virtually guaranteed, even for the culinarily challenged. Don’t count the calories and ignore the carbs, at least for the time it takes to enjoy. Then, get outside and walk, or run, or bike, or just sit and count your blessings!!
Birthdays are meant to be shared, just like campaigns!
You can donate to my re-election here.
Texas Sheet Cake
2 cups flour
2 cups granulated sugar
1/3 teaspoon salt
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons water
¾ cup (1½ sticks) butter
2 squares unsweetened baking chocolate
½ cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla (or almond) extract
Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees (Fahrenheit). In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar and salt. In a microwaveable container––I use a 4-cup glass measuring cup––microwave the water, butter and chocolate for two minutes. (I do it in one-minute increments until the chocolate is melted).
Stir after each minute and stir to blend at the end. Add buttermilk, eggs, baking soda, and vanilla or almond extract to chocolate mixture and stir to blend. The mixture will seem thinner than most cake batter—don’t worry!!
Pour into a greased (or Pammed!) 15x10x1-inch baking pan and bake 18-20 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. About half-way through the baking, start on the frosting….
6 tablespoons butter
2 squares unsweetened baking chocolate
6 tablespoons milk
1 pound powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla (or almond) extract
Microwave the butter, baking chocolate and milk in a microwaveable container for two minutes. (Again, do this in one-minute increments and stir after each minute or until the chocolate is melted.) Add remaining ingredients and stir––I do it by hand––until well-mixed.
Remove cake from oven and, while still warm, pour frosting over the cake, spreading to cover. Let cake cool completely before cutting. You can microwave individual pieces 30 seconds or so to maximize the amazing taste. Serve solo or with ice cream, whipped cream, or with any other addition you desire.
Alternatives: If your audience enjoys nuts, you can add nuts—your choice of variety—to the cake and/or the frosting.
If adding to the cake, distribute on top of the cake once it’s poured into the pan. Toasting the nuts before adding to cake or frosting enhances the nutty flavor.
P.S. We aren’t even talking about calories.
2 cups flour (all purpose)
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter—frozen
½ cup sour cream
1 large egg
Sparkling sugar for tops
*Optional: For a sweet scone, add ½ cup raisins or other dried fruit
(blueberries or cherries are awesome). For a savory scone, add ½ cup
grated hard cheese.
Adjust oven rack to a lower-middle position and pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. In a medium bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Using a box or straight grater, and the side with the larger holes, grate the butter into the flour mixture. (This will produce “pea sized” pieces of butter that will spread throughout your dough).
If desired, add dried fruit or grated cheese and blend into the flour mixture. In a small bowl, whisk sour cream and egg together, until smooth. Then add the sour cream mixture to the flour mixture, stirring (or better yet, using your hands to mix) until just blended. Do NOT overmix as this will make your scones tougher.
Divide the dough in half and, on a lightly floured area, form each half into a disk eight to ten inches across. Cut each disk into eight pieces (divide the disk in half and then divide each half in half and then each quarter in half).
Place on a lightly greased or parchment paper-lined cookie sheet about an inch apart. Sprinkle with sparkling sugar, if making sweet scones. Bake until golden brown, about 15-17 minutes. Can be served hot or cool.
We could talk calories, but why?
As an attorney and former Assistant Public Defender, one way in which I believe I can enhance the role of Boone County Commissioner is to bring my experience to bear on our local criminal justice system and to link local government efforts with private and public non-profit entities to yield a far greater impact than any one entity can achieve on its own.
It’s frustrating for citizens—and governmental officials alike—to see what appears to be revolving prison and jail doors, as the same individuals show up again and again within the criminal justice system. Each year, more than 450 prior offenders released from Missouri prisons return to Boone County and, of those, nearly half cycle back into prison within two years. The toll this takes on our community, on taxpayers, on the safety of our citizens—not to mention the impact on the lives of so many family members of repeat offenders—is huge.
But, as Dan Hanneken, Executive Director of Columbia’s In2Action program, likes to say, the old way of thinking about how to keep those released from incarceration from further contact with the criminal justice system just doesn’t work. The solutions we so often hear—“if they don’t have a job, nothing else matters,” “if they don’t have a place to live, nothing else matters,” “if they can’t get off of drugs, nothing else matters”––come
from the unique perspectives of the employment experts, the housing experts, the addiction experts. The crux of the matter is that those needs require rapid and often simultaneous attention.
Last week, I spent some time with Dan Hanneken, whose In2Action program provides a hands-on re-entry approach for men returning from prison to Boone County, providing housing and supportive services. In2Action recently purchased another house to be used for these men as they develop the skills necessary for effective, and hopefully, lasting, re-entry into the community. As Dan can attest, housing is a critical component of any re-entry program. By investing in this additional house, In2Action has invested in the lives of more individuals who are returning to our community.
Earlier this summer, a woman called me. I could hear the panic in her voice. Her daughter, who had been scheduled to be released from the Boone County Jail later that day, had been released early. This meant that a young woman with mental health and related substance use challenges had returned to the streets of Boone County, without the resources she needed to cope with those challenges. It also meant that it was significantly more likely that she would wind up back in jail. Fortunately, the woman was able to find her daughter, and, with the assistance of local resources, her daughter is far more likely to resolve her legal issues without further justice involvement.
A couple of weeks ago, a visitor to the Boone County Government Center approached several offices with limited access (in the midst of the pandemic) and tried to enter, but couldn’t articulate what he needed from those offices. The next day, he returned, indicating that he knew radio and TV transmissions were coming into his head and asked for help in getting the transmissions turned off. Again, I received a call. The Department Director asked for help.
Fortunately, I am aware of the mental health resources available in the community, so I reached out to Sgt. Tracey Cleeton, who directs the Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training for the Sheriff’s Department and is part of the CIT leadership in Missouri. Sgt. Cleeton, in turn, connected the individual with those acutely needed services.
One of the resources that Sgt. Cleeton could access was a Community Mental Health Liaison (CMHL), designated by the Missouri Department of Mental Health and working through a local mental health care provider to help individuals with behavioral health challenges. From its inception, this critical resource position was assigned to a ten-county-wide area in Mid-Missouri. As the needs became ever more obvious, it became clear that I had to become an advocate—or perhaps a one-woman band—for a CMHL devoted to Boone County. I am pleased that diligence paid off.
In 2019, Burrell Behavioral Health, which manages the program at the local level, set aside funding for 2020 and beyond for a CMHL dedicated to serve Boone and Randolph Counties. So, now, in Boone County, when someone like Sgt. Cleeton calls for the assistance of a CMHL, he doesn’t have to wait his turn behind nine other counties. That resource is and remains focused on the people of Boone County.
These are but three of the pieces of quilt that provide solutions for those struggling to find their way out of the revolving door of the criminal justice system. The quilt is comprised of not-for-profit organizations, health care systems, government, and, yes, people. Does it have gaps? Indeed, it does. The work is far from complete. But now it is stronger, more widely accepted, and more pervasive because we are working together, collaborating, sharing resources and investing in best practices.
There is much to be thankful for in Boone County. For me, this type of collaboration is among our greatest assets and speaks to the important role of county government in making it happen.
As the November election draws near, I wanted to share a new campaign resource I’ve put together to help you navigate the many important issues currently impacting Boone County.
I have launched a new website, www.ThompsonForBoone.com, where I have compiled the typical information you expect to see on a candidate’s site, plus an Issues section and an archive of my online newsletter that will give you a more in-depth understanding of who I am, along with detailed explanations of my stance on the important issues facing Boone County.
It's more than simply an “About Me” kind of web presence. It’s an easy way for you to see the kinds of decisions that I face as Northern District Commissioner and how I weigh the human, legal, and economic impact of those decisions made on behalf of the county’s citizens. Rather than tell you that I’ll work hard and transparently, it’s my way of SHOWING you!
So please check out my website, then come back often to see frequent updates and new information both about the campaign, but more importantly, to help you stay informed about Boone County issues.
PS: And I’d appreciate your vote on November 3!
A few years ago, as I was finishing up with barn chores, a neighbor hollered at me, saying how much he liked my newest little dog. Puzzled, I asked him, “What new little dog?” He turned and pointed to the scruffy tan dog behind him.
As I approached, the little dog wagged her tail and tried to walk toward me. Tried, but failed. It turned out she had a badly broken hip, probably, the vet said, from being thrown from a vehicle. She was the latest dog to be “dumped,” this time literally, at my property on a rural gravel road here in Boone County. She went to the vet in Hallsville that very morning and, after surgery, spent the next month or so cooped up in a kennel while her bones knitted together. Scout Finch, as she came to be called, was a Border Terrier, who joined the family about a month before Linus James, a miniature Schnauzer, died during an interminable night.
After another interminable night, Scout died last week. And, oddly enough, about a month earlier, another dog arrived in a similar fashion. Late one night, the barking chorus led me outside, flashlight in hand, to see if a varmint was trying to destroy yet another bird feeder. It wasn’t a varmint. It was a dog—or at least it might have been a dog. It looked more like a pelt over a skeleton, so skinny was this little thing. I put out some kibble, hoping that in the morning, I could persuade the poor scrap to come in and get more food.
In the morning, the dog was gone but a couple of days later, I saw movement around my machine shed. I began to leave kibble, drenched in milk, twice each day. It disappeared like clockwork. The dog, which began to look more and more like a dog, refused to approach but would slink up to the overhang of the shed after I moved away, to wolf down the food. After three weeks, the dog, who seemed to fit the name “Paco,” and was now plump and fit, wagged his tail one day. Three days later, after tail-wagging each day, he approached and licked my hand. That day, he decided he could live at the house and has been there ever since. Paco, who was approved by Scout––but still has to gain the approval of Xochi, a probable Golden Doodle, dumped on the road several years after Scout’s arrival––appears to be part bassett hound and part pit bull.
I’m sure Paco will have his own story one day, but it will be stiff competition to live up to one episode in Scout’s life…
In our house, Thanksgiving has always been an opportunity to invite others to celebrate over good food and good conversation. One Thanksgiving several years ago, although the guest list was small, it was going to be filled with laughter and conversation. Those invited included two professors at MU, a friend and colleague from the Public Defender System, my Mom, me, and of course the dogs—at that time Scout, Montie (a part German shepherd and part something else) and Xochi.
My Mom was a brilliant woman but, to be blunt, she couldn’t cook. She was unclear exactly why that room called the kitchen existed. But as I was trying to get everything ready for our guests’ arrival, she helpfully asked several times, “What can I do?” But when I responded “nothing,” she didn’t give up. Finally, she announced that she would put the cranberry sauce on the table. Still, a bit later came another, “What can I do?” This time she announced she would put the butter on the table. And the rest of the story, as they say, is chronicled in family history.
You see, for a little dog, Scout was incredibly athletic. She could get on any table and could remove any item she wanted with surgical precision. You guessed it. Soon after Mom had put the butter on the table, I saw Scout, with a stick of butter between her clenched jaws, high-tailing it out of the dining room, through the kitchen, into the family room and out the doggie door—with the boys—Montie and Xochi—in hot pursuit.
I chased the group, screaming “No, No, Bad Dogs!! DROP IT!!! DROP IT!!” with absolutely no effect. I finally cornered Scout in the yard, and pried her jaws open to pull the rest of the stick of butter out of her mouth. (No, I didn’t use the butter in the meal, since it didn’t meet the 15-second test.)
As the guests arrived, the naughty dogs were still in the proverbial doghouse and, despite pleas that they be allowed in the house, they spent Thanksgiving dinner in the yard––the dogs, not the guests.
After dinner was over and the food placed out of harm’s way, the herd was allowed to return. To my horror, when I looked down at Scout, I saw what looked to be partially dried blood on her side. I thought, “Great! One of the boys smelled the butter and bit her. Now I’m going to have to call the vet and ask who is willing to come in to tend a puncture wound on Thanksgiving Day.” Before I made that phone call, I figured I should at least clean up the wound to see how bad it was. So, I wet a paper towel and picked her up to assess the damage. As I dabbed at the “blood,” I realized, and, unfortunately, said aloud, “This isn’t blood. This is CRANBERRY SAUCE!!”
And, yes, I realized, as did our guests, that in the process of stealing the butter, Scout had checked out the cranberry sauce too. She had done what any self-respecting dog does when it meets up with something smelly, but inedible––she rolled in it. You could see everyone in the room—except for one guest who didn’t like cranberry sauce—turn a little green and utter a collective “bleah.”
So, the newest addition to the family––Paco––in creating his own legacy, will have to live up to “The Great Butter Caper.” Because he is so short-legged, and even now does a “Tigger Bounce” to see over tall grass, I suspect he won’t be hopping on tables like Scout did. But, undoubtedly, he will find his own way into family lore.
While I wish that people who don’t have a use for an animal wouldn’t use a county road as a dumping ground and suggest that instead, they take these animals to the Central Missouri Humane Society, my life has been the richer for the additions of those who have been dumped: Scout Finch, Montie, Xochi, Holly, Max, Houdini, just to name a few.
Spay. Neuter. Protect.
Especially during election seasons, people (primarily candidates!!) are more than willing to take the lion’s share of the credit for projects and ideas. This seems true even when their involvement is as light as the touch of a butterfly’s wing. Yesterday, however, was a great example of success brought about by the participation and commitment of many people, whose collaborative spirit truly make a difference.
In 2014, Boone County joined the Stepping Up Initiative, a project championed by the National Association of Counties (NACo) and the American Psychiatric Association. Its purpose was to address the over-representation in the criminal justice system of individuals with mental health challenges. As a long-time, former Public Defender, I had seen the issue “up close and personal” through the lives and experiences of clients over the years. And, even prior to chairing the County-wide Judicial and Law Enforcement Task Force, so had Rusty Antel. In his decades-long history of representing individuals involved in the criminal justice system, he had seen and tried to address the issues related to those individuals with mental health challenges who represent a disproportionate involvement in the system.
When the county joined the Stepping Up Initiative, Rusty and I began the process of bringing together all of the stakeholders to gain a better understanding of the issues involved—from their multiple perspectives—as well as what resources we could bring to bear to develop solutions.
Among the issues that we quickly recognized was the disproportionate amount of time individuals with mental health challenges spend in our county jail as compared to those charged with the same offenses but without a similar mental health history.
The data was clear, but the question became:
How could we reduce the days in jail (a huge and ongoing cost for the county) AND keep the community safe AND obtain a better outcome for the individuals involved?
Little did we know that Rusty’s question posed during one of our brainstorming sessions would spur progress toward finding a piece of the solution:
“I wonder if we could bring everyone together to talk about these cases and see if they could be moved more quickly and efficiently.”
Since we were in the midst of a NACo-organized project, it was only logical that I contact NACo to see if any other county had already invented that particular model.
The NACo staff in charge of Stepping Up suggested that I contact two counties that had been heavily involved in justice-related activities. The first county contact said, “No, we don’t have a program like that but, if you create it, please let us know. We’d love to try it out.”
With the second county contacted––in Johnson County, Iowa––we found the wheel has been invented. Not only did they HAVE such a program, they were willing to share information and provide contacts within their county who could help us in setting up a program.
So, Rusty and I met with two local Boone County judges to gauge their interest and willingness to take on one more project––Chris Carpenter, who was the Presiding Circuit Judge at that time, and Leslie Schneider, a well-respected Judge in the Circuit without a criminal docket and who therefore would not have to recuse herself on any cases. We discussed Rusty’s idea and the Johnson County model with the two judges and they agreed to bring it to the entire court (the court en banc) for a decision about whether to proceed.
Judges Carpenter and Schneider also reached out to the judge assigned to the project in Iowa to better understand how the model worked. The judges quickly rallied behind the idea, since, in Johnson County, the three goals we had articulated had been met––fewer days in jail, community safety maintained, and better outcomes obtained for the individuals. With their blessing, we had the green light to bring the rest of the stakeholders on board.
Members of the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office were enthusiastic about the project from the beginning. They signed up to be the conduits for that office for information and negotiation. Similarly, members of the Boone County Public Defender’s Office, including the District Defender, quickly came on board, as did members of the local defense bar. Sheriff Carey immediately authorized members of his corrections staff, including the Jail Administrator, to participate in the program, and the then relatively new Treatment Court Commissioner, Casey Clevenger, and her administrator became part of the team as well. Also, an integral part of the team was the mental health professional at the jail itself. These stakeholder representatives were joined by the court administrator, who monitored and coordinated the group’s activities.
Each member of the group was given the opportunity to speak with their counterpart in Johnson County IA, to understand how the program had been implemented in their jurisdiction, and to learn from their experience. Because mental health information would be shared among participants, everyone involved signed a Business Associate Agreement, to address confidentiality concerns.
Some three years after first joining the Stepping Up Initiative, the group still meets twice each month. In times of COVID-19, meetings are held by conference call or Zoom to discuss individuals referred to the group by judges, lawyers (both defense counsel and prosecutors), family members, jail personnel, mental health personnel, or by the individuals themselves. Just as in the Iowa experiment, the process has become ever better as the stakeholders have become more confident in themselves and in their colleagues.
As members have seen the commitment to the three goals solidify for all involved, their confidence in the process has grown as well. They know that nobody at the table is working an angle and no one is using the process for personal or agency gain. As the goals are realized, so too is the process validated. The successes seen for individuals have become successes shared by the group.
Yesterday was just one more case in point. One member of the group sent an email concerning an individual who simply couldn’t function within the jail setting because of mental health issues. With our three goals ever in mind and with community safety ensured, everyone involved worked to find a better, more appropriate placement for that individual.
This is not just government functioning at its finest. This is community working at its best. And it began with one simple question: “How can we do this better?”
Renewable energy is important. As populations increase across the globe, dependence on energy sources that are finite becomes a more precarious model upon which to depend. When that model also creates substantial pollutants, it just makes sense to look for other, sustainable energy sources that don’t degrade the environment. But, for Boone County, I am not convinced that one renewable energy source—wind energy—is necessarily the right fit.
Two years ago, the then-Director of Resource Management made the County Commission aware that a resident and farm owner near Harrisburg was interested in exploring the viability of wind energy in Boone County by placing a pole on his property to test wind speeds. I had heard for many years that, because of the barrier created by the Missouri River and the bluffs, Boone County would not have sufficient wind to make such a project economically feasible.
I was therefore surprised that a company would choose Boone County as the optimum site for this project. I was also surprised by the choice, given the denser population in Boone County than in surrounding counties, as well as the higher land values here. As I told representatives of the company, I would have thought they would first consider setting up business in more sparsely populated adjacent counties, rather than in Boone.
Those three factors seemed to make Boone County less than an ideal choice for the project. The company representatives claimed that new technology somewhat mitigated the effects of the river and the bluffs and they proceeded to enter into an agreement to explore wind capacity with that initial landowner.
At about the same time, because of my position as a Board member for both the Missouri Association of Counties (MAC) and the County Commissioners Association (CCAM), I also heard from Commissioners in the northwestern part of Missouri about the wildly varying degrees of success wind energy projects had had there. In one county the project showed signs of success, infusing the local economy with jobs and creating revenue streams for entities like county school districts.
For the other county, the project met with push-back, with residents speaking of the adverse health impacts on people and animals, of lowered land values, and of hidden costs for the project itself. As concerns about the potential for a wind energy project in Boone County mounted, a meeting in Harrisburg was organized, to which the Resource Management Director and I were invited.
Residents from northwest Missouri also attended. After that meeting, both the Director and I received and sought out information about wind energy from a variety of sources, including residents in the Harrisburg area. We then asked three community members to help us collate the relevant information available about wind farms and wind energy. The County Commission then charged the Planning & Zoning Commission with the task of considering what regulations pertaining to wind energy might look like if enacted here in Boone County.
The wealth of information collected was shared with the Planning & Zoning Commission which has considered that information as it has worked to craft proposed new regulations. It is anticipated that the draft regulations will be subjected to community review before being considered for approval by the County Commission. If approved, any request for placement of a wind turbine would need to show not only the benefit of renewable energy but would have to address the impact on the community, particularly neighbors; the impact on the environment, including wildlife; the impact on the road system; and the impact of connecting the turbines to the energy grid. Consideration of these factors would be necessary when or if an application for a wind energy system were presented for approval here in Boone County.
Some people have suggested that Boone County should ban wind turbines outright. It’s my belief that such an action would only cause Boone County to become embroiled in expensive litigation filed by those who seek to deny our citizens local control.
The better approach is to utilize the tools at hand through a responsible and responsive group of citizens—the Planning & Zoning Commission—which is charged with developing and then implementing a system to guide the consideration of such a project. I believe in my fellow citizens and I believe in allowing the representatives of our citizenry to reach a logical conclusion based upon the facts at hand.