Douglas County is considering whether to hire a person to oversee the county’s juvenile justice services and coordinate reform efforts.
The county would create a new position, a deputy county administrator for juvenile services, under a plan being promoted by County Board Chairman Chris Rodgers and Patrick Bloomingdale, the county’s chief administrative officer.
The person would supervise the directors of the Douglas County Youth Center and Juvenile Assessment Center, the county’s disproportionate minority contact and compliance coordinator and leaders of other services, Bloomingdale said.
The person also might oversee the staff of Operation Youth Success, a county initiative to keep young people out of the justice system while maintaining public safety.
The new person also would lead efforts to bring about the County Board’s desired juvenile justice reforms, Bloomingdale said. That would involve bringing together judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, probation and detention center leaders, as well as community groups, he said.
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The job likely would pay between $80,000 and $150,000 a year, Bloomingdale said.
The concept has been in the works for months. It first came up at a Douglas County Board meeting Aug. 27, when County Board member Jim Cavanaugh, who opposes the idea, brought it up. Rodgers had mentioned the position earlier in August during a lightly attended public meeting of the board’s Child and Youth Services Committee, and it was on the agenda for that meeting.
Cavanaugh called creating the position “adding another layer of bureaucracy” that would do nothing directly for children. He said the county’s money would be better spent on hiring a child psychologist, or hiring more young people to work in the Step-Up jobs program.
The move to create the position is related to a controversial proposal to build a new, smaller county juvenile detention center along with a proposed new courthouse annex in downtown Omaha. But plans for the new post and increased programming are moving ahead despite a delay in the building project due to a taxpayer lawsuit, Rodgers said.
“This thing is bigger than the buildings,” Rodgers said. “It’s about how do we change the system? ... The main thing is that if we’re going to be committed to having the programs in place to really change the system beyond the buildings, you need someone who lives and breathes this.”
Such a position is one of several conditions laid out in a Sherwood Foundation offer to give $5 million for programming and $5 million toward the cost of a modern, smaller juvenile detention center.
But Bloomingdale said the idea is not new. He said he has been talking to County Board chairs — first Mary Ann Borgeson, then Rodgers — for years about adding another deputy county administrator. The county currently has one.
Bloomingdale said the county administrative office is understaffed compared to other similar government agencies.
The idea has picked up steam as the county’s juvenile justice efforts increased. Bloomingdale said overseeing those efforts is split up among members of his staff.
“It’d be good to have somebody who has experience in juvenile justice reform, because that’s really where a lot of this is headed,” Bloomingdale said.
He has sent a draft job description to County Board members. Rodgers said the job could be posted later in September, and a person hired in December.
The position is not funded in the county’s recently adopted budget for fiscal 2019-20. Rodgers said Sherwood might donate money for the position for the remainder, possibly six months, of the current fiscal year. Then the board would vote on funding it in the 2020-21 budget.
It’s unclear if it would require a board vote to accept donated money to pay the person.
While funding the position would require a vote of the County Board, simply creating it would not, Bloomingdale said. He said Douglas County had created positions of deputy director in its Corrections and 911 Communications Departments midyear without formal County Board approval, and then the board approved funding the salaries in the next budget.
Cavanaugh said he would oppose using private funding for the position.
“Allowing private entities to make government decisions that we would then impose on taxpayers later on is something that I oppose,” Cavanaugh said.
No other County Board members joined in the discussion at the board meeting last week.
Bloomingdale said he won’t press for the position if the majority of the County Board doesn’t support it.
“If I don’t have confidence that they’re going to be willing to fund it, then I’m not going to pursue it,” he said.
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