Gov. Sam Brownback has canceled a meeting scheduled with House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, to discuss the planned closure of the Lawrence office of the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services.
The meeting was supposed to start at 9 a.m. Tuesday, and Davis was going to appeal to Brownback to keep the office open. But Davis’ office got word from Brownback’s office Monday afternoon that the meeting was off.
Davis said the governor’s office said they would reschedule the meeting when there were more concrete ideas about ways to keep the office in operation.
“I’m still encouraged they are talking with us and seem to be open to some alternatives,” Davis said. “It’s just going to take some sorting through.”
SRS Secretary Robert Siedlecki Jr. has proposed closing nine SRS offices, including the one in Lawrence. Siedlecki and Brownback have said Lawrence clients will be able to access services online or go to offices in other cities, such as Topeka and Kansas City.
The proposal has caused widespread opposition. Local leaders say closing the Lawrence office will disrupt services to thousands of vulnerable Kansans.
Siedlecki has said the office closure will save about $400,000 per year, mostly in rent. But recently it was revealed that half of that amount is paid by the federal government.
Davis said local units of government in Lawrence are discussing how they might be able to help keep the office open.
“We just need to have more conversations about that and try to get an understanding of where people are before we talk to the governor,” Davis said.
Talks have been going on concerning how local government could offset the state’s rent costs for the SRS building.
Douglas County commissioners have held two closed-door sessions on the SRS issue — one Monday and one Friday — but they have remained tight-lipped about their deliberations.
“We’re continuing to work on this issue,” said Jim Flory, commission chairman, after adjourning Monday’s special meeting without any formal action. “We’re continuing to work on it, which says something in and of itself.”
Added Commissioner Mike Gaughan: “As a commission, we’re very concerned about making sure that we look out for the community and we continue to look forward to resolving this. We continue to look at every option we can think of, with our attorneys.”
Gaughan declined to say whether the commission would be coming up with a plan, or plans, for Davis to take to Brownback.
“We’re looking at every option that we can think of,” Gaughan said.