Douglas County commissioners gathered behind closed doors Wednesday evening for yet another session to discuss progress toward a potential deal intended to retain a home in Lawrence for SRS services.
And they welcomed a new face to the proceedings: Steve Six, a Lawrence attorney and former Kansas attorney general, Douglas County District Court judge and nominee for the 10th Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals.
Six joined county counselor Evan Ice, a colleague in the Stevens & Brand law firm, in meeting in executive session with commissioners and County Administrator Craig Weinaug for 70 minutes at the Douglas County Courthouse.
The topic: potential alternatives and legal issues surrounding the planned closure of the Lawrence SRS office, a move opposed by officials from the county, city of Lawrence, Lawrence school district and others who rely on the department’s services and personnel.
Six, a Democrat, didn’t enter Wednesday’s discussions for his political acumen, commissioners said. They’re relying on him and others at Stevens & Brand to help steer through the SRS issue and its legal complications, including potential lawsuits.
“For us, its a community challenge involving 10 percent of our population,” said Commissioner Nancy Thellman, a Democrat. “It’s neither Democrat nor Republican. It’s a human challenge, and we’re looking forward to working with the state to find a resolution.”
Commissioners met outside the public eye for the third time in four business days to grapple with the SRS situation — one in which the state’s Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services has announced plans to close its Lawrence offices at 1900 Del. and 1901 Del. in a cost-cutting move expected to save $400,000 a year, most of it in rent.
Half of the money comes from the federal government, and county leaders have been meeting and consulting with a variety of elected officials and others to see if they can find a way to meet the state’s cost-savings needs while retaining the SRS operation in Lawrence.
The official justification for each of the three executive sessions thus far has been for commissioners and Craig Weinaug to consult with their attorneys regarding issues they deem privileged under the attorney-client relationship.
Translation: They’re trying to come up with a deal that works.
“The possibility of a lawsuit and the terms in the various contractual commitments and the ability of the state to break contracts is intrinsic to this discussion,” Weinaug said. “The possibility of a lawsuit in this situation — for several parties, including us — is more than just academic and theoretic. It is very, very real.”
What might result from the executive sessions remains uncertain, but a key intent — in support of retaining SRS services and personnel in Lawrence — is clear.
“If we succeed in our efforts, you won’t see a lawsuit,” Weinaug said. “That’s our goal.”