City acts on mental health cuts

Ordinance would allow for reshaping of municipal health and social services

Posted: Tuesday, May 16, 2000

The Juneau Assembly answered a lawsuit at its Monday night meeting with an ordinance authorizing the reorganization of the city's Health and Social Services Department.

The ongoing dispute between department workers and city management over the privatization of Juneau's mental health services took the form of a lawsuit filed in April by the Marine Engineers' Beneficial Association. That union represents the 40 workers who are facing layoff.

The suit charged the city violated its charter by altering the department without benefit of an ordinance directing it to do so.

In his presentation of the ordinance to the assembly, City Attorney John Corso said, ``There is no legal requirement for an ordinance at this point, and there may never be. However, it is possible that at some point in the process it would be legally prudent to have an ordinance.''

The ordinance does not invalidate the suit, and MEBA has asked the court for a summary judgment declaring the city's action to alter the department illegal, said MEBA spokesman Greg O'Claray.

That the city attorney should consider the ordinance unnecessary and yet call for its passage is strange, O'Claray said. ``The city charter is clear: You can't alter a city department without an ordinance. What Mr. Corso has written is gibberish.''

Corso today argued that the disputed changes in the department have not yet come to pass, and that this ``interim'' ordinance ``is a reflection of the community concern about the issues and the objections made by the unions. (The ordinance) allows us to proceed in a public and orderly fashion.''

MEBA's suit took the city to task ``for making the decision to abolish the department in executive session in February,'' O'Claray said. ``By ordinance, they have to have full public disclosure.''

The transfer of the city's mental health services is proceeding well, said Deputy City Manager Donna Pierce.

``The state has agreed to work with the Juneau Alliance for the Mentally Ill and with Juneau Youth Services,'' Pierce said. ``They've done all their discussion and will give all notices of grant awards in June.''

A transition team comprising state mental health officials, JAMI, JYS, the Juneau School District, Bartlett Regional Hospital and others is helping in the transfer of services and in accommodating workers and clients, she said.

State funds provided in the past to the city for mental health services will be provided to the community through JAMI and JYS, said Karl Brimner, director of the state Division of Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities.

``The target is to effect the transition of services on June 30, with the understanding that the primary focus is the consumers,'' Brimner said.

Some of the transition will go on after June, he said.

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