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McLean County Board OKs update to mental health action plan, but postpones vote on solar wind farm

“We must come together, it can’t be about personal and political differences. I hope that it isn’t,” McLean County Board chair John McIntyre said of the conversation around the mental health action plan.
Emily Bollinger
“We must come together, it can’t be about personal and political differences. I hope that it isn’t,” McLean County Board chair John McIntyre said of the conversation around the mental health action plan.

The McLean County Board approved its updated mental health action plan Thursday, after postponing the vote one month, to allow more public feedback on the document.

The updated version covers the next three years. The plan, first adopted in 2015, is designed by the county's Behavior Health Coordinating Council. The document focuses on the county government’s role in improving mental health services for adults and youth with behavioral health problems, housing, crisis intervention and medication management.

Also at Thursday’s meeting, the board voted down a proposed 3% increase to salaries for board members, opting to keep those flat; approved salaries for the county clerk, treasurer and sheriff; and revisited a heated justice committee exchange between board member Sharon Chung and McLean County Sheriff Jon Sandage earlier this month.

Mental health plan update OK'd

At the board’s April 14 meeting, member Elizabeth Johnston asked the board to push back its adoption of the updated mental health action plan, saying the community should have time to review the final draft before a vote.

"The rewrite has been done in a way that was not accessible to the public," she said.

Before Thursday’s vote, a few public commenters who read the plan did share their feedback.

Johnston also addressed the delay. She said McLean County should be commended for taking big steps to initiate a response to the mental health crisis, and has worked on meeting the most pressing needs.

In the past several years, the county has established a successful taxpayer-funded plan, she said. But, she said over the past few weeks, community members have shared with her a desire that the next mental health action plan contain more metrics, and more smart goals for how to address community shortfalls.

One challenge that often is discussed is the community's struggle to open an adolescent mental health crisis center.

“The plan talks about connecting people to resources. And we want to make sure we are building out resources to meet those needs,” said Johnston.

County board member Susan Schafer, who also sits on the county's BHCC, said the postponed vote offended several of that council's members.

“They’re the ones that created the recommendations. They are the ones that are going to create long-term systemic change to the delivery of the behavioral health system in this county,” she said.

For the county board to assume ownership of the plan is misguided, said Schafer.

“I think that could be detrimental to this plan,” and cause problems for the collaborations built over the past seven years, she added.

Johnston said it's not so much about directing the BHCC, as giving the council more information.

In the past 18 months, no fellow county board members have reached out to Schafer about BHCC’s plan, or the movement in addressing county residents' mental health needs, she noted.

“If you would like to be involved, please contact people,” she said.

After Thursday’s vote, Board Chairman John McIntyre, who also leads the BHCC, responded to concerns about community input.

In 2015, the board invited many members of the public to help write the original mental health action plan, said McIntyre. At that time, there were several discussions and disagreements. “In the end though, we all worked together.”

Now seven years later, that collaborative spirit needs to continue, he said.

“We must come together, it can’t be about personal and political differences. I hope that it isn’t,” he said.

McIntyre also invited Johnston, as well as several community members who have recently commented on the plan, to attend the BHCC’s next meeting at 7:30 a.m. June 10, in Room 400 of the downtown Government Center.

McIntyre also publicly invited Johnston to join him on a planning committee for the BHCC’s annual mental health forum, scheduled Oct. 4 at the Marriott Hotel in uptown Normal.

The October event is free, and open to the public, said McIntyre.

“I want to make sure the community is very well informed of that opportunity to come,” he said. This year, that forum will offer a breakout session expressly designed to gather public input for the BHCC to consider, he added.

Earlier in the meeting, the board issued a proclamation recognizing May as Mental Health Awareness Month.

Solar wind farm vote postponed

Developers proposing the Towanda Solar wind farm southwest of Bloomington, will have to wait another month to learn the fate of the project.

On Thursday, the county board voted to postpone a vote on the matter. At issue is whether the company will commit to hiring local laborers for the project, scheduled to begin in 2023.

Sheriff, Chung dispute revisited

A May 2 meeting of the board's justice committee that found Sheriff Sandage criticizing board member Chung over interactions with McLean County Jail inmates was the center of a heated debate Thursday among county board members.

It started when Jim Soeldner, vice chairperson of the board, said he was concerned with Chung's behavior, after watching video of the board's May 2 justice committee meeting.

After Soeldner's comments, McIntyre tried to quickly move to the agenda's next item, but instead, the discussion that followed found several members defending Chung, and a few others defending Sandage.

Justice Committee chairperson Chuck Erickson grew visibly angry, responding to board member Shayna Watchinski's criticism of his allowing the sheriff to continue a tirade at Chung, uninterrupted.

"I think it was completely out of line that he was allowed to talk to member Chung like that, and was not cut off by the chairman," said board member Shayna Watchinski.

Erickson said Chung has repeatedly attacked Sandage, a county department head, so the man deserved time to respond. Board member George Wendt said he agreed with Erickson.

But Watchinski said asking questions of a department head or a professional is not attacking someone, yet it is presented that way.

Board member Jim Rogal said the issue was more than questions during a committee meeting.

"It draws the line — of questioning a department head in a meeting versus that department head then FOIAing (filing Freedom of Information Act documents ) members of this body, FOIAing teachers in our school districts, sending officers to their homes. I think that is over the line," he said.

County board salaries stay flat

The board voted against a 3% increase to county board salaries. Instead, the rates will remain flat through 2026.

Board members earn $4,900 annually, with executive committee members earning $5,753, and the chairperson earning $19,522.

In other business, the board:

  • Renewed its property tax software contract with DevNet. The five-year agreement totals about $535,000. 
  • OK’d several county highway department projects. 
  • Approved contracts to resurface two county parking lots. Pontiac-based HJ Eppel will complete the work, totaling $145,000. 
  • Approved salaries for the county clerk and treasurer, as well as the McLean County sheriff, for terms beginning in December 2022. 

Michele Steinbacher is a WGLT correspondent. She joined the staff in 2020.
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