McLean County Council approves mental health action plan update, but postpones vote on solar wind farm

McLean County Council on Thursday approved its updated mental health action plan, after postponing the vote for a month, to allow more public comment on the document.

The updated version covers the next three years. The plan, first adopted in 2015, is designed by the county’s Behavior Health Coordinating Council. The paper focuses on the county government’s role in improving mental health services for adults and youth with behavioral health issues, housing, crisis intervention and medication management.

Also at Thursday’s meeting, the board rejected a proposal to raise council members’ salaries by 3%, opting to keep them flat; approved salaries for county clerk, treasurer and sheriff; and revisited a heated justice committee exchange between board member Sharon Chung and McLean County Sheriff Jon Sandage earlier this month.

Mental Health Plan Update OK

At the April 14 board meeting, member Elizabeth Johnston asked the board to push back its adoption of the updated mental health action plan, saying the community should be given time to consider the final draft before a vote.

“The rewrite was done in a way that was not publicly available,” she said.

Ahead of Thursday’s vote, a few public commentators who read the plan shared their comments.

Johnston also addressed the delay. She said McLean County should be commended for taking great steps to initiate a response to the mental health crisis and working to meet the most pressing needs.

Over the past few years, the county has implemented a successful taxpayer-funded plan, she said. But, she said in recent weeks, community members have shared with her a desire for the next action plan for mental health to contain more measures and smarter targets on how to address community shortcomings.

One challenge that is often discussed is the community’s struggle to open a teen mental health crisis center.

“The plan talks about connecting people to resources. And we want to make sure we’re building resources to meet those needs,” Johnston said.

County board member Susan Schafer, who also sits on the county’s BHCC, said the postponed vote offended several board members.

“They are the ones who created the recommendations. They are the ones who are going to create long-term systemic change in the delivery of the behavioral health system in this county,” she said.

For the county council to assume ownership of the plan is a mistake, Schafer said.

“I think it could hurt this plan” and cause problems for the collaborations built over the past seven years, she added.

Johnston said it wasn’t so much about running the BHCC as it was about giving the council more information.

In the past 18 months, no other county board member has contacted Schafer about the BHCC’s plan or movement to address the mental health needs of county residents, she noted. .

“If you want to get involved, please reach out to the folks,” she said.

After Thursday’s vote, board chairman John McIntyre, who also leads the BHCC, addressed concerns about community input.

In 2015, the council invited many members of the public to help draft the original mental health action plan, McIntyre said. At that time, there were several discussions and disagreements. “In the end, we all worked together.”

Now, seven years later, that spirit of collaboration must continue, he said.

“We have to unite, it can’t be about personal and political differences. I hope that’s not the case,” he said.

McIntyre also invited Johnston, along with several community members who recently commented on the plan, to attend the next BHCC meeting at 7:30 a.m. on June 10 in room 400 of the Downtown Government Center.

McIntyre also publicly invited Johnston to join him on a planning committee for the BHCC’s annual mental health forum, scheduled for Oct. 4 at the Marriott Hotel in downtown Normal.

The October event is free and open to the public, McIntyre said.

“I want to make sure the community is very well informed about this upcoming opportunity,” he said. This year, this forum will feature a breakout session expressly designed to gather public feedback for consideration by the BHCC, he added.

Earlier in the meeting, the council issued a proclamation recognizing May as Mental Health Awareness Month.

Vote on solar wind farms postponed

Developers proposing the Towanda Solar wind farm southwest of Bloomington will have to wait another month to find out the fate of the project.

On Thursday, the county council voted to postpone a vote on the issue. The question is whether the company will commit to hiring local workers for the project, which is expected to begin in 2023.

Sheriff, Chung Dispute Revisited

A May 2 meeting of the council’s justice committee that found Sheriff Sandage criticizing council member Chung for his interactions with inmates at the McLean County Jail was at the center of a heated debate Thursday between members of the county council.

It all started when Jim Soeldner, vice chairman of the board, said he was concerned about Chung’s behavior after watching video of the May 2 justice committee meeting.

After Soeldner’s comments, McIntyre attempted to move quickly to the next agenda item, but instead the ensuing discussion found several members defending Chung and a few others defending Sandage.

Justice Committee Chairman Chuck Erickson became visibly angry, responding to criticism from board member Shayna Watchinski for allowing the sheriff to continue a tirade at Chung, uninterrupted.

“I think it was completely irrelevant that he was allowed to speak to Member Chung like that, and not be interrupted by the president,” said Shayna Watchinski, board member of administration.

Erickson said Chung repeatedly attacked Sandage, a county department chief, so the man deserved the time to respond. Board member George Wendt said he agreed with Erickson.

But Watchinski said asking questions of a department head or a professional isn’t attacking someone, yet it’s framed that way.

Board member Jim Rogal said the issue was more than questions at a committee meeting.

“It draws the line – interviewing a department head in a meeting versus that department head, then FOIAing (Filing Freedom of Information Act documents) members of that body, FOIAing teachers in our districts schools, sending officers home. I think it’s over the line,” he said.

County council salaries remain stable

The council voted against a 3% pay rise for county councils. Instead, rates will remain stable until 2026.

Board members earn $4,900 per year, executive committee members earn $5,753, and the president earns $19,522.

In other cases counsel:

  • Renewed its property tax software contract with DevNet. The five-year deal totals approximately $535,000.
  • I have accepted several projects from the county highway department.
  • Contracts approved to resurface two county parking lots. HJ Eppel, based in Pontiac, will complete the work, totaling $145,000.
  • Approved the salaries of the County Clerk and Treasurer, as well as the McLean County Sheriff, for terms beginning in December 2022.

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