Benton and Franklin county commissioners plan a conference call meeting May 15 to discuss the future of the bicounty Crisis Response Unit.
Benton County commissioners have discussed possibly privatizing mental health and crisis intervention services. Now they plan to share more information on the issue with Franklin County, said Benton County Commissioner Shon Small.
Small does not expect a decision to be made during the meeting.
“There are going to be a few stops on the journey to the final destination,” he said.
Franklin commissioners briefly discussed the special meeting at their regular board meeting Wednesday. Commission Chairman Brad Peck said it is clear that Small and the Benton commissioners are the primary advocates for privatizing Crisis Response, a division of the bicounty Human Services department.
Peck said he’s not generally opposed to privatizing services, but doesn’t have enough information on the issue.
Human Services Director Linda Robb asked Franklin commissioners whether the meeting would be in open or closed session.
Peck said the Franklin commissioners had no reason to close the meeting to the public, but didn’t know about Benton County.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if they did,” he said.
Small said later Wednesday that he might ask to go into executive session to discuss an “employee performance” issue related to Crisis Response.
The state public meetings law allows the commissioners to receive or evaluate complaints or charges against a public employee behind closed doors unless the employee asks for the session to be open.
They also can review an employee’s performance in private, but any action from hiring and firing to setting a salary or disciplining an employee must be done in public.
Small has said privatizing Crisis Response would help put Benton County in line with the state’s vision to combine chemical dependency, mental health and health care systems by 2020.
He contends the switch would provide more efficient and improved services to mentally ill people, reduce the county’s liability and free up an estimated half-million dollars for enhanced care. The savings would come from cutting some of the agency’s 26 employees and from not having to rent an office.
Small has identified Lourdes Health Network of Pasco as a good fit for taking over services now offered by the crisis unit, but he said the county likely would seek bids for the services. Crisis Response had more than 18,500 contacts and calls for service last year.
How the other programs operated by Benton-Franklin Human Services, including a system that serves as a one-stop shop for homeless people seeking housing, would operate in the future has yet to be determined, Small said.
“These other branches that Human Services is the umbrella for, those services will always take place,” he said. “I just don’t know what they will fall under.”
Last year, Small called for splitting away from Franklin County on some services they now operate jointly.
Discussions between the counties have slowed while they waited for a state attorney general’s opinion on whether they can legally meet together in person outside their own county.
Gov. Jay Inslee recently signed a bill, sponsored by Rep. Larry Haler, R-Richland, that allows for bicounty meetings, but it doesn’t go into effect until July. So, the May 15 meeting will be via conference call.
“Due to all the changes, it makes it very difficult when Benton and Franklin counties have a tough time even meeting together,” Small said.
The public meeting is scheduled to start at 1 p.m. Franklin County commissioners meet at the courthouse, 1016 N. Fourth Ave. in Pasco, while Benton County commissioners meet at the Planning Annex, 1002 Dudley Ave. in Prosser.