Local leaders to discuss plan for unified government; improving children services also to be discussed at joint meeting

photo by: Journal-World File Photos

City of Lawrence and Douglas County

Lawrence’s mayor wants to have a serious discussion about the city of Lawrence and Douglas County combining forces to create a consolidated government.

Mayor Stuart Boley said he plans to propose that the city of Lawrence and Douglas County jointly ask the county’s legislative delegation to study the issue of a unified government that potentially would replace the city and county commissions with a single governing body.

Boley said he plans to make the request at a joint meeting of the city, the county and the Lawrence school board on Wednesday. The county is hosting the joint meeting from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. at Jim Flory Meeting Hall at the Douglas County Fairgrounds, 2120 Harper St.

“I’m saying, as a first step, we should have the legislative delegation, as outside neutral observers, to study this for the challenges and benefits,” he said.

Unified governments can take on many different forms. The Unified Government of Kansas City, Kan., and Wyandotte County is one of the larger examples in the country. A single board governs both Kansas City, Kan. and the unincorporated areas of Wyandotte County, while many smaller communities have kept their own city councils or commissions.

Currently, Lawrence and Douglas County have several interlocal agreements that allow the two entities to share costs and work together on providing several services. Boley said he plans to talk of the need to revise, reset or even dispose of some of those interlocal agreements, noting the Lawrence-Douglas County Mental Health Board hasn’t met since 2003.

Wednesday’s meeting, which is the first time the three entities have met jointly this year, also is expected to include a conversation about improving behavioral health care for children in the county.

The first hour of the meeting will be devoted to discussion on service gaps for children in the areas of substance abuse and mental illness, Douglas County Commission Chair Nancy Thellman said. Speaking will be Lawrence Superintendent Anthony Lewis; Pam Weigand, director of Douglas County Criminal Justice Services; Bob Tryanski, county director of behavioral health projects and Assistant Lawrence City Manager Diane Stoddard.

Thellman said she didn’t expect solutions to develop from the meeting. Her goal is to take the first step in developing a coordinated, collaborative effort to enhance behavioral health services for the county’s children. The model would be the enhanced behavioral health programming the county introduced this year with DCCCA, Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center, Heartland Community Health Center, the Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority and other community partners, she said.

“We know there are a lot of groups talking and working on trauma-informed care of young children and teen substance abuse,” she said. “We learned in the county on the adult behavioral health side that we just flailed around until we brought all the players together. (The meeting is) the start of conversation on how we can collaborate to meet those needs.”


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