Court officials asked the Board of Commissioners to approve a grant to fund the program Tuesday, a request commissioners declined, tabling the matter for two weeks.
During the board’s Tuesday afternoon work session, Cobb Superior Court Judge Mary Staley, Cobb & Douglas Public Health Board Chairman Dan Stephens and Tom Charron, Cobb Superior Court’s administrator, asked the board to approve a $160,847 grant awarded by Gov. Nathan Deal on Oct. 26, 2012, to fund the new mental health court.
The court has been a goal of newly elected Cobb District Attorney Vic Reynolds.
Eligible people would not meet the criteria of legally insane, but still suffer from some form of mental illness and can be prosecuted for crimes they commit. Those are typically what Reynolds calls “nuisance crimes” and include anything from disorderly conduct to trespassing. By placing such people under the supervision of a mental health court, they will be required to attend court and counseling a certain number of times a week. Mental health professionals also will monitor their medication requirements.
The point is to make sure the people who need treatment are being treated, while keeping dangerous criminals behind bars. The mental health court is expected to be set up in similarly to the county’s two existing accountability courts — the felony drug court and misdemeanor DUI court.
In the drug court, for example, there are a certain number of phases a felon must pass through to graduate to independence. The first phase may be daily counseling and drug testing three to five times a week.
The Cobb County jail spends $252,000 a year on mental health medications. While it costs $58 a day to incarcerate an inmate, it costs $78 a day to incarcerate one with mental health issues, Charron said.
The projected annual cost of the mental health court is $178,510, a sum that breaks down into $53,550 for a case manager, $24,960 for drug testing, $70,000 for an accountability court director and $30,000 for administrative staff. Deal’s $160,847 grant would get the program up and running.
Complications with timing
Commissioner Bob Ott noticed Deal’s grant expires June 30 and got the court officials to acknowledge that the funds could not be spent after that time.
Charron said they could apply for a new grant to go into effect in July, but Ott asked what would happen if that grant didn’t come through. The county potentially could be stuck footing the bill. A further complication on Deal’s grant is that two thirds of it have to be spent by the end of the month: Friday.
Charron explained why: “By the time we received notice that we had received the funds, actually two of the six months had expired, so they prorate the amount of the $161,000 over that six-month period. In order for us to get the lion’s share of the $161,000, we would have had to had it approved by March 30 because that only leaves April, May and June, the last half of the year by the grant. By not having it approved tonight, we do sacrifice that potential money.”
Ott, who said in concept he is supportive of a mental health court, asked that the matter be tabled for two weeks until court officials could bring the Board of Commissioners a solid financial plan of how exactly the court would be funded, a decision with which the rest of the board agreed.
Charron said he would be OK with that decision. “I think conceptually everybody knows this is something that is really coming down the pike, and I got that assurance after the meeting, including from Commissioner Ott that the concept is a sound one,” he said.
Hearing that the matter was tabled, Reynolds told the MDJ, “We want to be a willing participant in the mental-health court, and we stand ready to be when it gets up and running. But we’re not involved in the financial issues on the front end.”
County makes new hire
In other business at Tuesday’s board meeting, commissioners hired Willie A. Hopkins Jr., the assistant city manager of Pompano Beach, Fla., as the county’s new support services director. The support services director oversees a staff of 320 people who manage the property management, information services, purchasing and government service centers. He also serves as the liaison to the tax assessor’s office.
Chairman Tim Lee also announced that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement had informed him Cobb County was now IMAGE certified.
“We were waiting for certification from ICE,” Lee said. “We got notice today that the paperwork was finally signed off and they’re going deliver our certification to us Thursday afternoon, so we are now IMAGE certified.”
The program is called the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers, or IMAGE. “I think it’s a great milestone for the county. I think it’s a testament to the county’s commitment to make sure we don’t have anyone working for Cobb County government that might be illegal,” Lee said.