Talon News - Good Local News



August 31, 2018

Farmington Municipal Judge William Liese testifies to County Commission.

by David Edward Albright, TALON

At the August 21, 2018 San Juan County Commission Meeting, the primary topic was mental health and in what direction the County should move to find solutions for the resultant, extreme problems in the community. By the end of the hour and a half plus meeting, Chairman McDaniel said, "This has been good progression---it certainly is a priority of mine before I leave office."

The agenda included: 'Update on San Juan United Way', by Jennifer Johnson; 'Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Application, by Under Sheriff, Shane Ferrari; 'Design/Build for the Glade Run Recreation Area Trail Improvements', by Public Works Administrator, Fran Fillerup; 'Capital Appropriation Agreement and Bridge Type/Construction Alternative Selection', by Fillerup; 'Local Government Road Fund Projects', by Public Works Under Administrator, Nick Porell; 'Employee Medical, Dental and Vision Benefit Plan', by Melissa Wood/Benefits and Compensation Manager; and 'Discussion on Mental Health Initiative', by CEO, Kim Carpenter. Chairman McDaniel said Commissioner Charley was excused for personal reasons.

Johnson presented County CFO, Jim Cox, with an award for heading the campaign to raise $15,800 dollars from County employees. "Just to give you an idea of what that does in this community...there are approximately 9800 chronically-hungry in the County", and the 'Backpack Program' (food to take home, typically on Fridays) funded the cost of filling over 6000 backpacks. Local United Way Executive Director, Catherine Abeyta, said, "Last year...working with over a hundred workplaces in the County, we were able to raise and keep in the community---over a million dollars. We fund over thirty non-profit programs...and we are doing a lot to create very healthy environments for our community." Abeyta also presented the Commission with an Appreciation Award.

Ferrari said, "The Jag Grant is a memorial from NYPD Officer Edward Byrne, who was killed in 1988, while protecting an immigrant witness on a drug-dealing case...in 2009, $2 million dollars was set aside for the Office of Justice to assist law enforcement. In 2017, (money delayed by a lawsuit now resolved) we were awarded $24,974 dollars...with that money...we wanted to further our 'taser program'. They are requesting the purchase of 19 X-2 Tasers, 19 holsters---to include 22 batteries." Making a motion to pass the measure, Chairman Pro Tem Fortner said, "When we get them I would love to see one used on Commissioner Beckstead---just as a demonstration." After hearty laughter all around---it passed. With the $34,509 awarded in 2018, the Sheriff's Office requested the purchase of 14 tasers, 14 holsters and 20 batteries and an internet server ($15,839 dollars) to aid in crimes against children. Approved.

Fillerup said the Glade Run Recreation Area Trail Improvements, in partnership with the BLM, was awarded to Kiewit New Mexico for $700,000---for design services. Commissioner Crowley asked if there were only two respondents to the sixteen invitations to bid. Fillerup replied in the positive and the measure passed.

With a powerpoint presentation, Fillerup discussed the County Road 5500 Bridge project, "The design is proceeding on track...with the agreement from the state for a capital outlay of approximately $2 and a half million dollars...obviously we recommend approval of that." He outlined four viable alternatives for the bridge construction type and schedule of phases. The criteria included: functional requirements, economics/price, environmental impacts, future maintenance, feasibility of construction, aesthetics, and consideration of using accelerated bridge construction (what parts could be built off-site to shorten construction time). Two, unequal spans of pre-stressed concrete ($5 million) was the preferred alternative, based on all the factors. "Two, twelve-foot travel lanes, four-foot shoulder, concrete barrier, five-foot sidewalk with railing, with a 49-foot total width," Fillerup detailed.

The key issue---whether to allow full closure of CR 5500 during construction or to pursue a phased approach---was based on savings in time, money and simplicity at the site, as well as safety factors. Fortner asked about length of construction time if closed. Fillerup said, "If it was a full closure you'd see activity for two months...if it was a phased approach, you would see activity for about four months, with only one lane open." Carpenter asked about the additional costs for the phased approach, and Fillerup responded it would be about $275,000.

David Yost, County Fire Deputy and Diane Clark, San Juan Regional EMS Manager spoke about the emergency response time if CR 5500 was to be fully closed. The Bloomfield route to access 5500 would extend the response time by about eighteen minutes. About 4000 travel the road daily---prior to one lane traffic with light and delay----about 6000 traveled per day. Clark, when asked about her preference, said, "If someone has a heart attack out there, time is of the essence; trauma---time is of the essence...our critical call load is...about 35% of our calls." After Under Sheriff Ferrari also spoke to the issue of response time, Fortner expressed his preference to go with a 'phased approach'. With two motions, the plan to select a 'phased approach and to approve the state grant---passed.

Nick Porell reported that his department was awarded nearly $800,000 dollars---roughly $270,000 more than requested---for 'Road Fund Projects'. Resolution was approved. Melissa Wood received approval for the employee benefits restatement.

CEO Carpenter said, "Staff would like to get some clarification and direction...regarding how to proceed with the mental health initiative." Crowley said, "I think it's important that we actually sit down and discuss this...people in the community have asked---what's the plan." He queried whether a symposium should be held or "Are we at a point where we're ready to put the group together...we already have a task force...we've talked about it for ten years...if it requires that we have to find money...there are a number of things we could do...there's a 1/16th percent tax that is available for mental health and the Detention Center." Beckstead said, "I think I like the idea of a symposium to get input from the community." Fortner favored a symposium and suggested that Thomas Havel, Detention Center Administrator, be involved in organizing it.

Havel, referencing a task force report, said, "You can see that some of those numbers are staggering, but we have to remember that...everyone goes through a medical intake...and a suicidal assessment...over 3000 were seen (since January, 2018)." Traci Neff, Director of SJC Juvenile Services, said, "Our community has made an effort to address the issue, but unfortunately, there's a lack of decision-makers at the table." She acknowledged the challenges and hard work for law enforcement and recommended that legislators be included. "We have a disjointed system in our community---we have a lot of resources---there's just not a lot of connectivity...data-keeping is really poor...agencies don't speak to one another when it comes to service delivery." She said acute care is not available here for adolescents and the "Cost to send them to Albuquerque or Las Cruces is unbelievable". "We're spending a lot of County resources to transport (typically by Sheriff's Office) juveniles," Neff said.

Farmington Judge, William Liese, said, "The unfortunate thing is the best mental health treatment some of these people are getting right now---is in the jails." He alluded to the late eighies, early nineties, "When we had so many DWI fatalities in San Juan County...what did we do---we held a huge meeting at the Civic Center...we got the service providers, law enforcement, concerned citizens, emergency services people." He said the resulting task force came up with a solution and it's been a model over the years. "My plea is that we do something other than incarcerate."

Carpenter asked for specific direction from the Commission, regarding those who should be involved and if a pre-meeting was advised. Fortner suggested that over the next weeks more work be done to gather ideas---in writing---to be presented to the CEO. Beckstead agreed, "As stated by Neff---a three-pronged wheel---the initial responders, the Sheriff's Department, Farmington Police, the detention aspect and the treatment aspect...we need to reach out to them during the next two weeks." Task force members, Al Jamison (Sheriff's Office), Nick Adegite (Farmington Police) and current chairman, Gretchen Potter, also spoke to advocate for strong, coordinated action.

County Fire Deputy David Yows introduced newly-hired Fire Deputy, John Mohler.


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