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Wexford board to weigh in on inter-county agreement regarding community mental health | News

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CADILLAC — A decision to continue the course or to head in a different direction regarding community mental health services is up for discussion Wednesday by the Wexford County Board of Commissioners.

At the meeting, the nine board members are scheduled to discuss a memorandum of understanding with Grand Traverse County and the other members of Northern Lakes Community Mental Health. This multi-county agreement would allow Wexford County to keep looking into improving services and resources provided by Northern Lakes.

A recommendation by the county’s Executive Committee is to approve the attorney-approved memorandum and to authorize chairman Gary Taylor to sign it on behalf of the county.

Wexford County Administrator Joe Porterfield said the county’s attorney didn’t recommend any changes to the document from what was given to the county by Grand Traverse County. Porterfield said the county’s attorney said the way it is written includes no financial obligation for Wexford County. He also said the attorney’s recommendation said signing it would allow the county to continue to be a part of the process of working toward keeping Northern Lakes intact.

Despite that, Porterfield said there is still skepticism by some board members regarding Grand Traverse County’s intentions.

“I would say some of our board members are skeptical and concerned. I don’t know if the memorandum of understanding will pass as it is right now,” Porterfield said.

If that motion fails, Porterfield said the issue would likely have to be discussed at a future meeting. Ultimately, Porterfield said the county needs to be part of the process, but some commissioners have concerns about how this all transpired.

On May 4, Grand Traverse commissioners voted to pursue terminating its relationship with Northern Lakes. If the action proceeds, the authority will cease to exist as an entity and all six counties will have one year to build new mental health systems, including new agreements and legal structures to provide behavioral health services as required by law.

Dissatisfaction with Northern Lakes expressed by Grand Traverse county is mostly connected with services provided to inmates of the Grand Traverse County Jail and the feeling that more services are needed.

If Grand Traverse County or any other county in the CMH opts to leave the authority, all six counties will have to find a new way to provide the mental health services they are responsible for. They can do it alone or they can partner with any other contiguous counties.

Administrators from Wexford, Missaukee, Crawford and Roscommon counties have been meeting to discuss the steps that needed to be taken in case another member of the CMH, Grand Traverse County, decided to withdraw from the partnership.

At the same time, all six counties currently in the Northern Lake Community Mental Health Authority also have been meeting to try and get things worked out.

This issue leading to the departure for Grand Traverse County is connected to one of the CMH’s employees. The Grand Traverse County Board of Commissioners does not want Joanie Blamer to become the new Chief Executive Officer for the CMH. Since the retirement of Northern Lakes’ former CEO, Karl Kovacs, Blamer is serving as the interim CEO until a permanent replacement was found.

While the Grand Traverse board’s feelings toward Blamer taking the position may have been something many were aware of because the county is contemplating leaving the six-county collaborative, it was made crystal clear after its special meeting on July 12.

The Grand Traverse board voted to remove two of its appointees to the Northern Lakes board citing possible neglect of duties. The Grand Traverse board cited two previously voted-on resolutions that asked for the Northern Lakes board to look into possible violation of board rules by Blamer as it was alleged she talked to board members outside of a board meeting. The board also cited that two of Grand Traverse County’s appointed Northern Lakes board members did not vote to rescind an offer to make Blamer the new chief executive officer for the CMH, which they believe went against the board’s purview.

Also during the meeting, the board is scheduled to discuss a request to increase the rate of pay at the Wexford County Sheriff’s Office.

The request is asking for a wage rate increase of $3 per hour for deputies and command staff to put them in line with other local law enforcement agencies. It also is asking for a $2 per hour wage rate increase for correction officers and $1 per hour for animal control officers and administrative assistants.

The money that would be used to fund the cost of the wage increases would be obtained by eliminating one deputy and corrections officer position. The 2022 budget also has additional funds that could be used due to the number of vacancies at the sheriff’s office, according to correspondence in the meeting agenda packet from Wexford County Sheriff Trent Taylor.

The proposed wage increases would make the sheriff’s office more competitive with surrounding law enforcement agencies and hopefully help with retentions of current staff and recruitment of new staff, according to Trent Taylor.

The commissioners also are scheduled to look at an amendment regarding the contract with the Veterans Serving Veterans group and the Octagon Building.

The veterans organization has asked the board to amend the current agreement and to extend the time allotted to remove the Octagon Building from the Wexford County fairgrounds to the end of 2022. The county’s executive committee recommended the full board approve the amendment.

The commissioners are scheduled to meet at 4 pm Wednesday in the commissioners’ room on the third floor of the Wexford County Courthouse, 437 E. Division St. The meeting should be streamed via YouTube, but the county is working through some technical difficulties that may prevent this meeting from being streamed.

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