County Commission approves criminal justice council’s request to add race expert

The Douglas County commission meets in the historic courtroom on the second floor of the old county courthouse, 1100 Massachusetts St.

The Douglas County Commission’s short agenda was expanded Wednesday with a late agenda item that stemmed from the Douglas County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council’s meeting from a day before.

Added to the agenda was action on a measure that allows the County Commission to expand the council to 15 members through the addition of an expert in the “intersection of race and criminal justice.” In March, the County Commission passed a resolution creating the 14-member body.

The County Commission’s action came after council members unanimously voted Tuesday to expand its membership. That action was in response to a letter sent to the County Commission earlier this month from Lawrence NAACP chapter President Ursula Minor, urging it appoint a representative of the NAACP or similar organization to the Coordinating Council to help ensure the body addresses the disproportionate number of people of color in the county jail and facing criminal action in county courts.

The process the Coordinating Council developed Tuesday will have the NAACP and other county groups with an interest in race and criminal justice issues jointly select an individual for Coordinating Council’s consideration. Should that body find the candidate qualified, it would forward a recommendation for the candidate’s approval to the County Commission.

“I’m fine with this,” Commission Chairman Jim Flory said of the request and process. “I look forward to the approving the council’s recommendation in short order.”

Minor said she saw the addition as a positive step, while the NAACP’s position that it was critical the Coordinating Council address the problem of the number of African Americans in the county jail.

“I would like to reiterate that we are not requesting a person of color to fill the opening position on the board,” she said. “We want someone qualified who specializes in issues of race to fill the position.”

In other action, the County Commission approved increasing county support for employee health insurance by 9.5 percent. In an attempt to corral premium costs, commissioners approved an option asking more of employees through increased deductibles, increased pharmaceutical co-payment and the use of cheaper medication options.