Archive for Sunday, October 1, 2000

Former corrections director opposes court services merger

Ex-official concerned about client supervision, budget cuts in Douglas County Community Corrections

October 1, 2000


Pat Berry didn't need to be told twice.

The former director of Douglas County Community Corrections said she resigned her post after the county administrator told her she should start looking for another job.

The discussion occurred after Berry expressed concern about the proposed merger between community corrections and Douglas County District Court Services. Friday, Berry said she still was worried such a merger wouldn't be good for the clients her agency serves.

Community corrections is a program that allows certain nonviolent offenders to serve their time while remaining in society. They can contribute to the community while saving taxpayer money, but it requires intense supervision.

Two weeks ago, Berry resigned from her director's post after two and a half years. Since her resignation, she had been unavailable for comment. Friday, she discussed why she left.

About six months ago, Berry said, she learned about a possible merger between the two departments from County Administrator Craig Weinaug, who had been discussing the idea with District Administrative Judge Michael Malone.

"I asked 'what does that mean for my position?' (Weinaug) said if he were I that he would be looking for another position," Berry recalled.

Weinaug recalled the conversation differently.

He said he told Berry he would understand if she started looking for a different job, considering the uncertainty of the merger. No one had decided who would be in charge of the combined departments if the merger was approved, he said.

Berry said the situation was unchanged until budget discussions this summer, when the Kansas Department of Corrections allocated only $280,320 of the $335,623 she had requested for fiscal year 2001. Instead of picking up the state's shortfall, county commissioners asked Berry to eliminate a position after Jan. 1, 2001.

At that time, Weinaug said he and Berry discussed how to handle the budget blow. He said eliminating her position was one of the suggestions discussed, but there was never a decision to do that.

Berry said she decided to leave after coming to the conclusion that no one was going to inform her what her administrative duties would be if she stayed. She also had a job offer on the table.

Berry said the yet-to-be-finalized merger is a bad idea.

"I was very disappointed in that decision (to merge)," she said. "I think it's going to have a negative impact."

Berry said the community corrections staff spends more one-on-one time with offenders because it is an intensive supervision program. Court services workers, she said, see offenders about once a month. Berry said she was worried how things would change after the merger.

Ron Stegall, who supervises court services and may be in charge of the merged departments, said he wouldn't comment until the merger is made official. Weinaug said he hoped to present a proposal to the county commissioners within a couple of weeks.

At least one county commissioner, Dean Nieder, said he supports the merger.

"It might possibly save the taxpayers some money," he said.

The other two commissioners weren't available for comment.

Monday, Berry will start a new job as the correctional manager in the programs division at Kansas Department of Corrections in Topeka. There, she will conduct audits and compile data for state-contracted community corrections programs.

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