Of all the lessons the Kansas secretary of Social and Rehabilitation Services might have taken away from his effort last summer to close several local SRS offices across the state, perhaps the most important would have been the need to consult with those directly affected by a decision before moving forward with what could be an ill-advised mandate.
Unfortunately, SRS Secretary Robert Siedlecki Jr., and the Brownback administration once again have announced a major administrative change before fully examining how the change would be implemented or the impact it would have on the people it serves.
The administration’s decision to move several major programs out of the Juvenile Justice Authority and place them under the SRS umbrella drew the attention this week of the House-Senate Committee on Corrections and Juvenile Justice. After discussing the action with Siedlecki and others on Tuesday, the committee approved a motion seeking to stop the governor from implementing the plan, which came in the form of an executive order.
During Tuesday’s hearing, law enforcement officials and juvenile experts decried the dismantling of a system that has been working fine. The state’s plan, they said, would harm programs that are helping young people and keeping the public safe.
Although Siedlecki maintained that the state “can do better,” legislators were not convinced, admonishing the SRS secretary for trying to fix a system that wasn’t broken and not taking time to find out how the system was working before trying to change things.
Their concerns seem well justified.
The reorganization plan was announced on Nov. 8 as part of Brownback’s Medicaid overhaul, but it wasn’t until two weeks later that stakeholders who would be affected by the plan were invited to a Dec. 12 meeting “to discuss this exciting opportunity.” As Committee Chairwoman Pat Colloton, R-Leawood, pointed out, having these discussions more than a month after the action was announced put the cart before the horse. “This sounds like ready, fire, aim,” she said, adding that Siedlecki should have sought input from people working in the field before putting forth the proposal.
This is a familiar refrain for people in Douglas County and several other counties whose local SRS offices were put on the chopping block last summer. After the office closings were announced, it became apparent that the action had been taken without consultation with local officials or a full understanding of how the plan would be implemented or the impact it would have on the people and communities those offices served. It was only after Douglas County officials stubbornly pursued a dialogue with SRS officials that an alternative was found to keep the local office open.
Hopefully, Tuesday’s committee action will force a similar reconsideration of what experts in the field see as an ill-conceived order to alter juvenile programs that are working well for the state.