Local legislative leaders are having a public forum tonight to discuss the recent decision by Gov. Sam Brownback's administration to close the Lawrence office of the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services.
The meeting is set to start at 7 p.m. at Plymouth Congregational Church, 925 Vt. We'll be providing live updates right here, if you can't make the meeting.
Earlier today during a meeting with Lawrence Journal-World reporters and editors, SRS Secretary Robert Siedlecki Jr. said he would not be attending tonight's meeting nor would anyone from his office. In the same meeting, Siedlecki said he wanted to be as transparent as possible.
We're following all the tweets from tonight's meeting using the hashtag, #LKSRS.
6:54 p.m. — More than 500 people have gathered in the church. All of the local legislators are here as well community leaders. The bottom area of the church is full and the top is filling up.
7 p.m. — The Rev. Peter Luckey is welcoming everyone, and praised the local legislators for organizing the event. Luckey said we are "united" and "care" about the community. A huge round of applause followed.
7:05 p.m. — Luckey said "we can not turn our back on this." It will be another roadblock between our families and the help they need to get medical care and food on the table. "We are here to help."
He has received a huge round of applause and a standing ovation by many in the crowd.
7:10 p.m. — Tom Holland said he and other legislators will take the comments and concerns of this community back to the SRS. Now, they are going to take comments and questions from the community. These must only pertain to the closure of the Lawrence office. There are two microphones in place. They are giving each person approximately 2 minutes to speak.
Among those in attendance and taking notes are: city and county commissioners, Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson, the police chief, the sheriff, and local legislators.
7:29 p.m. — Residents are questioning how they are supposed to find transportation to other towns. Bert Nash COO expects case workers will spend at least 30 percent more time dealing with cases because of the closure.
7:35 p.m. — A resident said there may not be legal action, but there can be political action. He encouraged people to voice their opinions by showing up on the steps of the Capitol in Topeka. He is proud of the turnout here, but thinks this community needs to take its voice to Topeka.
Almost everyone's comments are receiving applause. There's a real sense of this community coming together to make a difference.
Also, there will another community forum from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, July 23, at the Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vt.
People are questioning why SRS officials are not here to explain the closure and address this community's questions.
7:40 p.m. — A resident questioned the recent hiring of out-of-state workers. She wonders how much they are making and could those salaries make up the closures. What are their jobs? Where's the transparency?
Another resident wanted to know why faith-based organizations haven't tried to appeal to the "Pope himself." The comment received laughter and applause.
7:45 p.m. — A Cottonwood employee who works with disabilities wants to know why there was no public input on the matter.
A school leader is concerned about students who may need the services. "It's a huge step backwards to close this office."
Another resident is very concerned about the technology that's going to be used. He is worried there will be just tables with pamphlets, and he knows how difficult it can be to navigate the Internet. He also believes the closure will cause more work for community agencies and churches.
7:50 p.m. — Residents are telling local representatives that they are having a hard time reaching Gov. Brownback and SRS officials.
A resident said we don't sacrifice our children — "We help them." Her comment received huge applause.
Loring Henderson, of The Lawrence Community Shelter, doesn't even know where to begin. It's going to be a huge loss. If this decision stands, he predicts the shelter's workers will spend more time to get its clients to the other SRS offices. He predicts he will spend more time fundraising.They currently have nine families with 17 children who are using SRS. The decision will affect them greatly.
8:05 p.m. — A woman said it's going to have a devastating effect on the mentally ill. She said it's going to be harder for them to get food and access to care. It is going to put more financial stress on agencies, like Bert Nash, whose funding is already being cut.
A woman who is an advocate for the mentally ill said it's just another message to those with disabilities that they are not worthy to be helped. These services continue to be cut.
8:10 p.m. — A KU student said that if the SRS office closures are being done to save the state money, then why is the state spending so much on transportation and building highways?
Former Judge Jean Shepherd said she is very concerned about the relationships that will be lost. She said the schools and the social workers know each other. She's concerned that children might unnecessarily go into foster care.
8:30 p.m. — The public forum has come to an end. Stay logged on to LJWorld.com for a summary of the meeting.