Douglas County Commission agrees November ballot initiative on jail expansion not viable

Douglas County Jail

Douglas County commissioners agreed Wednesday that the goal of placing a ballot question on the November general election ballot on funding for the expansion of the county jail and construction of a crisis intervention center was not realistic.

Although a formal timeline for the ballot initiative has never been established, the County Commission has been working with a goal of getting a ballot referendum before voters in November. For that timeline to be realized, the Douglas County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, which has met once since its formation in March, would have to complete its review of issues driving a future ballot question.

Among the tasks assigned to the Coordinating Council in a resolution the County Commission approved last month creating the body was a review of the county’s criminal justice system and those of its partner agencies in respect to the County Commission’s ongoing appraisal of the need to expand the Douglas County Jail, construct a mental health crisis intervention center, and create a mental health court.

During commissioner comments Wednesday, County Commission Chairman Jim Flory said there wasn’t enough time for the Coordinating Council to complete that task in order to put a question before voters in November.

“It became obvious to me after the first meeting of the Coordinating Council and the scope of things it will be looking at, it’s going to take some time to even look at the proposals we have on the table,” he said. “It seems to me the probability of getting this on the ballot in November is very unlikely.”

Commissioners Mike Gaughan and Nancy Thellman agreed the timeline was too tight.

“I don’t disagree,” Thellman said. “When you tally everything we have in formation, it’s so important to get it right. I don’t disagree we need to let the council take the time to get it right.”

Flory, who is not seeking re-election and will step away from the County Commission in January, said the delay in the referendum shouldn’t be open-ended.

“Even though I won’t be here in the spring, I think that is a good target either with a special election on mail-in ballot,” he said. “I mean spring 2017, not 2020.”

Because of his impending departure from the commission, Flory suggested Gaughan replace him in the Coordinating Council position his fellow commissioners appointed him to last month.

“After that first meeting, it seemed clear to me the initial meetings are when members are getting to know one another and gaining trust with each other,” he said. “It’s an ongoing process. I really think the commissioner on the council needs to be there for the long term.”

After Gaughan’s appointment to the Coordinating Council, Flory said he would not be stepping away from the issues of the county’s criminal justice system, jail expansion or the mental health crisis center and volunteered to serve on appropriate Coordinating Council subcommittees.