August 15, 2022

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Former Douglas County commissioners happy of community support, hope for very same from new commissioners | Information, Sports activities, Employment

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picture by: Ashley Golledge

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Former Douglas County Commissioner Nancy Thellman, still left, is pictured Jan. 13, 2021, at her farm north of Lawrence. Previous Douglas County Commissioner Michelle Derusseau, right, is pictured at the Douglas County Courthouse on Jan. 15, 2021.

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Previous County Commissioners Nancy Thellman and Michelle Derusseau tackled a ton of large assignments in their time in county govt — a new behavioral well being campus, legal justice reform efforts, a revamped set of land use laws — but some of their proudest achievements are a lot smaller sized and much more individual.

Resolving a zoning difficulty with a property. Conference with a resident to assistance them navigate the county’s polices. And any other time when the County Commission right served inhabitants out with the troubles in their life, no issue how smaller they could appear from the exterior.

“So substantially of what we do at the county is … the items you do not see or listen to about at our meetings,” mentioned Derusseau, who served on the commission for four several years. “It’s own problems that individuals want assist with navigating the program or resolving (a problem). Which is our position — it’s all about persons.”

Now, two new commissioners have taken the reins: Shannon Portillo, who gained in the 3rd District immediately after Derusseau resolved not to seek reelection, and Shannon Reid, who defeated Thellman in the 2nd District Democratic most important. And Derusseau and Thellman the two hope their successors will continue to keep county government targeted on the folks it serves.

That’s primarily crucial through a time of political unrest such as the riots at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, Thellman claimed. She explained that community governments should really set a good case in point and exhibit that they treatment about their constituents.

“It’s so basic, but I hope the commission will operate specifically really hard to product great governing to assist men and women have self esteem, even if it is just at the neighborhood amount, to know their tax dollars are nicely expended and their needs are attended to,” mentioned Thellman, who served on the fee for 12 a long time.

Resolving constituents’ challenges often requires commissioners to get acquainted with pieces of the county they are not as acquainted with, Derusseau stated. The new fee is composed exclusively of Lawrence inhabitants, and Derusseau mentioned she hoped the commissioners would travel all around the county and see firsthand the concerns that rural citizens were enduring.

“I just hope they bear in mind it’s all about individuals,” she said. “You have to really go see all of these places to get a entire understanding about what you are about to make a selection on.”

Michelle Derusseau

photo by: Ashley Golledge

Former County Commissioner Michelle Derusseau is pictured at the Douglas County Courthouse on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021.

Tasks large and small

Thellman and Derusseau mentioned they ended up happy of many big projects the county had carried out above the earlier couple many years — including hugely visible ones like new behavioral health and fitness initiatives and services, as well as subtler issues like land use laws that a lot of county inhabitants would not be conscious of.

The greatest of the county’s behavioral health and fitness tasks, a new campus in northern Lawrence for mental ailment and compound abuse procedure, is less than building now. Two of the campus’ housing units had been not too long ago concluded, and function is ongoing on the campus’ behavioral wellbeing disaster and recovery middle.

One particular matter about the job that Thellman stated was unique was that it brought together a lot of community businesses — major players like LMH Well being and Bert Nash Local community Psychological Wellness Heart, as well as more compact nonprofit businesses — to do the job toward a typical objective. She reported those people businesses would keep on to work jointly and with the county to serve the campus’ people.

The county also delivers funding for quite a few organizations that do other sorts of social provider operate, and Derusseau claimed she was very pleased that the fee aided them get the funding they necessary. Amid the systems that stood out for her were these that aid homeless folks, these kinds of as Artists Serving to the Homeless, a nonprofit that operates a respite home in Lawrence.

But the commissioners also mentioned some of the county’s driving-the-scenes perform. From Thellman’s standpoint, some of the commission’s most essential initiatives ended up all those that targeted on sustainability and land preservation. Individuals jobs consist of a set of new land use restrictions a new complete land use program that was made alongside the Metropolis of Lawrence and the establishment of the Heritage Conservation Council, which focuses on preserving essential organic, cultural and historic web-sites in the county and oversees a grant application for individuals kinds of attempts.

Those land use and conservation tasks provide just one of the county’s important ambitions, Thellman said: to be certain that prime farmland and the county’s historic places are preserved for upcoming generations.

“Those issues are delicate, but terribly significant to our potential,” Thellman reported.

Nancy Thellman

image by: Ashley Golledge

Former Douglas County Commissioner Nancy Thellman lives on a farm north of Lawrence. She is pictured at her farm on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021.

A different subtle issue the fee does is talking to constituents a person on just one. Derusseau stated some of the finest times of her term had been when she could sit down with inhabitants and help them take care of their troubles or give them a greater understanding of how county government performs.

“To me, those are some of my most rewarding (moments) about the very last 4 yrs — being there to assist when they essential the help,” she said.

Criminal justice and the jail

There had been periods all through Thellman’s and Derusseau’s phrases, having said that, when some constituents accused the fee of currently being at odds with the public. And one of the most significant flashpoints was a collection of programs to develop the Douglas County Jail.

Overcrowding at the jail has been a perennial trouble for the county. Above the past couple a long time, the county built a couple of massive pushes to establish an addition to the facility. The initial one was a proposed $44 million expansion of the jail that would have been funded with element of the proceeds from a countywide fifty percent-cent profits tax. But county voters defeated the gross sales tax measure in 2018 — 53% voted from the new profits tax, and 47% voted for it.

With the income tax proposal shot down, county leaders then regarded as a prepare to extend the jail with out a new product sales tax. The new approach was a scaled-again version of the preceding one, with a price of $29.6 million. County leaders stated the strategy was crucial to deliver plenty of house to safely dwelling inmates who could not be served with solutions to incarceration. But some county citizens disagreed, stating that the cash would be far better spent on far more criminal justice reform courses and that inhabitants really should get to vote straight on the venture yet again.

At some point, in January 2020, the fee accepted the scaled-down jail enlargement approach. All three members — Thellman, Derusseau and fellow Commissioner Patrick Kelly — voted in favor of it.

But when the coronavirus pandemic emerged in the spring of 2020, the reality of the task transformed. Among other points, the jail noticed a dramatic lower in bookings the county predicted that the pandemic would direct to a fall in tax earnings, which would make it additional hard to fund the enlargement and the commissioners requested prison justice leaders to find new strategies to lower bookings so they could provide plenty of area to maintain inmates safe from the virus. The commissioners requested to reconsider the jail growth problem, and in September 2020, they voted to abandon the challenge.

Even if that vote experienced turned out in a different way, the venture would even now probable have been doomed, since all of the candidates remaining in the County Commission races at that place had particularly campaigned from the jail enlargement.

Hunting back again, Thellman and Derusseau mentioned that although the jail expansion challenge was controversial, the county was undertaking operate on felony justice reform at the exact same time. The two leaders were element of the county’s effort and hard work to build new incarceration choices like the behavioral overall health court docket and the drug courtroom, which have been also meant to reduce the crowding at the jail.

“We built the headlines for the jail, and that upset an dreadful good deal of people today, but the perform behind that was also felony justice reform,” Thellman mentioned. “I’ll pass up the possibility to go on that function as well.”

Unfinished enterprise

There ended up also some priorities that Thellman and Derusseau wished they could have addressed just before their time in county business office arrived to a close.

For Thellman, a person of the greatest types was the creation of a prepare that would protect open up, undeveloped areas in the county. She said she experienced started doing the job on that job, which would safeguard “uniquely important land” for all county residents to use, but it is presently unfinished. She explained she envisioned that the program may possibly support the county battle weather transform, as well.

“What we do with our land, soil, our forests, prairies and undeveloped regions truly issues in our skill to struggle weather alter,” Thellman explained. “When we do not shell out awareness to that, then we are aspect of the trouble of local climate adjust, and not element of the solution.”

Derusseau claimed she wanted to assist perform on a few animal concerns in the county, these kinds of as issues with vicious canines — despite the fact that she said the dialogue really should genuinely concentration on “irresponsible pet dog owners” somewhat than on the animals them selves. She mentioned that she’d read from rural residents whose livestock had been killed or maimed by puppies and that she hoped more conversations would arise on the subject matter in the upcoming.

Derusseau also pointed out that various jobs, including the behavioral wellness campus, were being underway but not finished. But she said the ball was by now rolling on those people difficulties and that she was assured they would be in fantastic arms with the new fee.

“I truly feel genuinely superior about where by they are, and they are heading to proceed to be a do the job in development,” she said. “They are in fantastic form and heading in the right way.”

Even if they did not get everything accomplished that they would have preferred, each Thellman and Derusseau explained they were content to have created a change in the county via their work. Echoing what they both of those explained through their final assembly on Jan. 6, Thellman informed the Journal-World she was grateful for the prospect to provide.

“It’s actually a large privilege and one particular of the best joys of my existence,” Thellman stated, thanking constituents and the county staff. “I couldn’t be prouder to be component of that group.”


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