Utah County may disband the current tri-county program at Timpanogos Community Mental Health Center and organize a facility run only by the county to eliminate further management problems, one commissioner says.
Utah County Commissioner Brent Morris said Jackson Howard, acting attorney for Timp Mental Health, is evaluating the current responsibilities of the center and looking at the county's statutory responsibilities for meeting mental health needs.The civil division of the county attorney's office is also looking at the county's responsibility for services required by law and the organization of a new structure to accomplish that service.
"Then maybe it would be healthy at this time to reorganize and place a new name on the mental health authority to get away from the stigma the center now has with this name," Morris said.
The tri-county facility includes Utah, Wasatch and Summit counties. A commissioner from each of the three counties was originally appointed to the center's authority board, but after the recent problems the board membership was changed to include all nine county commissioners.
"If I'm accountable, I want to have control," Morris said. "The people of Wasatch and Summit counties don't elect me as a commissioner. I am responsible to citizens of this community and the only way to ensure my responsibility is to control the center on a local level."
He said the relationship Timp Mental Health now has with the county and state "is very confusing." The center is a county facility that receives state monies. Because this involves different entities, each tends to assume the other is accountable.
"We as a local authority board receive criticism for what is going on, and now we sit in on hearings and make decisions on individuals' careers. There is no clear definition of Utah County's role and the state's role."
If Utah County severed relations with Wasatch and Summit counties, then the state would ask these counties to come up with their own providers to handle the program on a local level, he said.
One possible disadvantage to the change would be the loss of money paid by the two counties to the Timp Mental Health program, Morris said. Without pooling money, the three counties may have difficulty maintaining their own centers.
Howard said it would take 11/2 years to break away from the two other counties and create bylaws and policy procedures for the center, but Morris said it can be done in six months.
"If the state says we should stay partners, then we will make sure there is a delineation of responsibilities and that policies and procedures are in place," Morris said.
"Because Utah County gives the most money of the three counties, we have the greatest oversight responsibility to the agency." Morris said he prefers to share decisions with his own county commissioners as opposed to six others.
As an example of how decisions might be different if Utah County controlled the operation, Morris said Dr. Richard Spencer would not have been rehired. "The commissioners from the other counties made the decision that he stay."
Spencer was offered a contract to work at the center for $40 an hour 40 hours a week in a formal hearing before the authority board last week. He was suspended as clinical director April 13 along with seven other administrators following allegations they mismanaged money at the center.
The decision to offer Spencer the contract was made after a 3-2 vote by the board. Anderson and Wasatch County Commissioners Larry Duke and Loren Allred voted in Spencer's favor. Utah County Commissioners Malcolm Beck and Morris voted to terminate the pyschiatrist's employment at the center.
Summit County commissioners did not attend the first hearing to come before the board since the legislative audit report.
"If they are not active participants in dealing with problems, we need to take a look at how we function as a mental-health authority in Utah County and not become involved in a multi-county area any more," Beck said.
Commissioners from the other counties say they haven't been given sufficient notice of meetings.
"It makes me somewhat frustrated that they don't attend," Morris said. "This is a crisis. Like all those who have oversight responsibility, they should be present when decisions are made. If they are part of a tri-county relationship with Timp Mental Health, they should share in the praise or criticism we get in defending our decisions and positions."
Some commissioners said they have been notified of meetings only a couple hours before they were to be there and meetings have been scheduled on their commission day, which is every Wednesday.
Commissioners of Summit and Wasatch counties work on a part-time basis, while Utah County commissioners are full time.
Wasatch County Commissioner Allred said he has attended only one meeting because the the meetings are called on the spur of the moment in an emergency fashion and it is difficult to leave other commitments necessary to operate the county.
"We have made it a top priority and canceled meetings to go to the first official hearing. We certainly will make everyone we can," he said.
Beck said, "I can't blame them for lack of being involved if they haven't gotten 24-hours notice. I blame them for not asking more questions, but they should be notified with time to prepare. We have known about meetings the day before."
Wasatch County Commissioner Pete Coleman said he has not attended meetings because "I've never been invited." He was out of town last week attending western interstate region meetings in Oregon. "Anytime there is a meeting called I'll be there."