2020 Primary Voters Guide: Douglas County Commissioner Nancy Thellman wants fourth term to continue work she started
photo by: Contributed photo
Douglas County Commissioner Nancy Thellman has unfinished business.
Thellman, who is running to earn a fourth term on the County Commission, said she wants another four-year term to continue working on mental health and criminal justice initiatives.
“It’s clear change takes time,” Thellman said, noting the county’s ongoing construction of a behavioral health campus in Lawrence. “Some of the work I’m most interested in and concerned about is taking a lot of time to work through.”
Thellman, 62, is one of three Democratic candidates running for the commission’s 2nd District seat. She was first elected to the commission in 2008.
One of the major criminal justice issues in Douglas County is the County Commission’s plan to expand its jail, which Thellman voted to approve in January. However, Thellman said the commissioners, including herself, seem to be “pivoting” away from the controversial $29.6 million project.
“That’s an ongoing and important conversation,” Thellman said, referring to the commissioners’ call to reexamine the project because of the coronavirus pandemic. “I want to be a part of that.”
In recent months, Thellman and the other commissioners have called on criminal justice leaders to find new ways to decrease how many people they book into the jail because of a lack of space in the facility due to the virus. They said the facility could see a massive increase in people being booked into jail as stay-at-home orders for the pandemic are lifted, causing a “crisis” at the facility.
During those discussions, Thellman has repeatedly said new solutions to the crisis could help the facility’s inmate population in the future, making the expansion project no longer needed.
“This is our best opportunity to take this crisis and turn it into a radical shift in how our community is doing things and maybe save our community from having to pay for a revision and expansion of the jail,” Thellman said during the County Commission’s June 17 meeting.
The coronavirus will also likely affect the county’s budget and operations, as county leaders are planning to see at least a decrease in sales tax revenue. Thellman said the aftermath of the pandemic will likely affect the county for years.
But she pointed to her experience, noting she has been helping craft the county budget for more than a decade. She said that includes dealing with the fallout of the Great Recession in the late 2000s, which could be valuable when dealing with a recession caused by the pandemic.
“I’m not happy with the recession conversation coming back, but I’m comfortable with it,” she said. “I know how we made it through the Great Recession, and I feel like I have something solid to offer for this next season.”
Thellman said one of the original reasons she chose to run for the County Commission in 2008 was her concern about the use of rural land. She said it’s an issue that is often overlooked, but she has spent a lot of time focusing on it, including serving as co-chair of the body that created the new city-county land use master plan, Plan 2040.
She said she would like to serve a fourth term to focus on an “open space program,” which aims to promote concern about rural and agricultural space and to protect land that has yet to be developed.
Prior to taking a seat on the County Commission in 2009, Thellman was an ordained Presbyterian minister and nurse. She has lived most of her life in Lawrence and currently lives in Grant Township, north of Lawrence, on a farm with her family.