Douglas County Heritage Conservation Council hires new coordinator, aims to expand council’s size in 2023

photo by: Austin Hornbostel/Journal-World

Members of Douglas County's Heritage Conservation Council joined the Douglas County Commission for a work session Wednesday, Feb. 22, 2023.

Douglas County’s Heritage Conservation Council has found its next coordinator, and that means it will soon be able to proceed with its Natural and Cultural Heritage Grant program for 2023.

During the Douglas County Commission’s work session on Wednesday afternoon, HCC chair Jenny Trucano Muller told commissioners that the council has chosen Kaitlyn Ammerlaan as its next heritage coordinator, and Ammerlaan is set to start next week. Ammerlaan was previously program director and preserve manager for the Grassland Heritage Foundation, a nonprofit land trust organization dedicated to preserving prairies in eastern Kansas.

“I’m personally very excited to have somebody in that role again, and we as a council are excited about the work and skill she brings from the Grassland Heritage Foundation,” Trucano Muller told the commission.

The council has been without a heritage coordinator since previous coordinator Kaitlin Stanley left the role at the end of 2022.

Among other responsibilities, the coordinator is in charge of facilitating the annual Natural and Cultural Heritage Grant program. Council vice chair Nick Pumphrey told the commission that many of the council’s activities for 2023 were dependent on hiring the new coordinator, and that the grant program and some other activities should soon start picking up steam.

The grant program awarded $200,000 last year for natural and cultural heritage projects in Douglas County, and this year it will have an additional $75,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funds to distribute for open space-related projects.

Other changes could be on the horizon for the HCC. Two of its members will soon be leaving as their terms expire, and Pumphrey said the group was already thinking about how it would recruit new members. He said the council also was hoping to expand beyond its current size of seven members. Council members on Wednesday said that expanding would help them diversify the perspectives and expertise in the group, add some more working capacity and hopefully foster deeper engagement with the community.

County commissioners said they liked the idea of bringing new perspectives to the council, but County Administrator Sarah Plinsky warned the group against being too specific in its criteria for new members. She said having too narrow a scope can make the pool of eligible candidates too shallow, an issue she said the county has dealt with before.

“Before you get too specialized in how you make your appointments, I would just suggest that maybe we have some staff-level conversations with you all about how not to make your life more difficult in the future, because we’ve been through that with other boards that have gotten very, very specific in what that slot needs to fill and then they can’t fill it,” Plinsky said.

Members of the Heritage Conservation Council are appointed by the Douglas County Commission for three-year terms, and the seats are volunteer positions.

In other business, the commission:

* Approved the county’s 2023 Tow Service Provider Agreement, which includes a roughly 25% increase for the rates in the agreement.

The county authorizes annual agreements with area tow contractors to participate in a rotation list used by the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office’s dispatch staff. Tow operators asked for the increase — which was based on the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index inflation calculator — for the first time since 2016, noting that it will better reflect the costs of operating their towing businesses.

* Met in an hourlong executive session that Commissioner Patrick Kelly said was related to the Treatment and Recovery Center of Douglas County. The commission’s meeting agenda said the purpose of the executive session was to “consult with the county counselor regarding matters that would be deemed privileged in the attorney-client relationship, in order to protect the attorney-client privilege.” The commission didn’t take any action after returning to open session.

Plinsky also gave another update about ongoing work regarding the TRC in the past week. In her report, she said that she and the county’s director of behavioral health projects, Bob Tryanski, attended an interview for a potential medical director for the TRC.

Plinsky and various county staff and counsel representatives have met with a Bert Nash negotiation team on multiple occasions in the past week, as well, often to continue working out terms for an operating agreement for the center.


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