Cullman Commission passes resolution to increase local mental health services

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WellStone Behavioral Health COO Chris Van Dyke speaks about the Stepping Up Initiative at Tuesday's Cullman County Commission meeting. (W.C. Mann for The Tribune)

CULLMAN – On Tuesday morning, the Cullman County Commission approved a resolution allowing it to sign on to the Stepping Up Initiative, to help remove the mentally ill from the Cullman County Detention Center and emergency room and get them the mental health care services they need.

WellStone Behavioral Health COO Chris Van Dyke gave a brief explanation of the growing program. “This resolution will allow Cullman County to sign on to a growing list of counties in Alabama who are supporting that assertion that they are too many people with mental illness in our jails. We would be drawing on a group of people who are already meeting on this issue to collect data, to create new programs, to monitor success, to reduce the number of people in our jails. Passing this resolution will also open the door to allow WellStone to apply for a $50,000 grant to add a case manager position specifically for this purpose.”

There are now 16 counties on the list, including Cullman, but according to Van Dyke, the list is growing all the time.  Nearby, a similar system was implemented in Madison County within the last year, and it has already shown positive results.

According to WellStone representative Neal Morrison, who works with WellStone in the administration of the newly-established Stephen K. Griffith Memorial Fund, money in that fund could potentially supply matching funds, if needed, to secure the grant.  For more on that fund, see

At the ceremony last week establishing the fund for mental health services, Morrison told the assembled group, “We’ve got a potential for a grant with the state of Alabama to help with what I’m calling a diversion program; that is, there will be a person that could be hired by Wellstone to go into the jail and to the hospital–and I keep stressing that, because you’ve got a lot of folks that go out to the hospital, y’all, and they get stuck out there; they don’t know where to go.”

Morrison stated that the grant “will help folks that are in jail come out of jail, that need mental care.”

Van Dyke added, “The whole idea is that there are people who are both in the jail and the hospital, who are stuck there (and) don’t need to be.  So this (case manager) position can kind of identify the resources they would need to be in a better place.

“So, for example, somebody who’s stuck in the jail because they wrote a bad check, but really they’re sick; and because they’re so sick, they can’t work with their lawyer and they can’t talk to the jail staff, so they get stuck.  This person can go in and figure out what do they need to get them out and talk to the judge and work all that through. And they’ll also work with the hospital, because some of those people end up coming to the ER every week, because they don’t know what else to do.  So they’ll work with those people to figure out what’s a better way to get the help you need than to show up at the ER and clog up the system.”

Other commission business

The commission worked through a full list of other business items, but first they heard from a Cullman citizen about some difficulties on County Road 404. Sue O’Neal lives on the road and was at the meeting to ask the commission for help regarding an old tree with falling limbs she said have become a hazard for motorists on the road. O’Neal said she and her family have thought about removing it themselves but with the amount of traffic on the road it is too dangerous for them to attempt alone. O’Neal has also been having problems with her garbage cans being left in the ditch next to the road after the trash is picked up and her inability to retrieve them she said has forced her to buy new cans three times. The commission got some of O’Neal’s information and will begin looking into the issues.

Shifting gears over to agenda items, the commission started new business by authorizing Juvenile Probation Officer Kay Bell to enter into a Clinical Affiliation Agreement with the College of Health and Sciences at Samford University. The affiliation agreement would allow College of Health and Science students at Samford University to complete internships with the Juvenile Probation Office. Bell believes the program will be an asset for her department and said she looks forward to getting started.

The commission renewed its licensing agreement with AVG Internet Security for another three years at the cost of $3,571.16 annually. The commission has licensed with AVG for the last four years.

Cullman County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) Director Phyllis Little was authorized by the commission to sign the State-Local Disaster Assistance Agreement for the March 19 hail storm. Little gave a brief explanation of the program, “The agreement states that the federal share for any funding that we receive from the disaster is 75 percent and the state and local will share equally at 12.5 percent. It’s just an agreement we need to sign off on to continue this process.”

After entering into a public hearing, the commission approved Resolution 2018-22 and 2018-23, which will allow it to match funds for the Cullman Area Rural Transportation System’s (CARTS) application for an Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) Section 5311 Grant. The grant would provide financial assistance for public transportation in Cullman and CARTS will be applying for the grant in the 2019 fiscal year.

One of the CARTS services’ most consistent users, Gary Lasdon, was at Tuesday morning’s meeting and had a suggestion for the commission. Lasdon proposed a Community Advisor’s Group to open up communication between CARTS and the commission. Chairman Kenneth Walker agreed with Lasdon that the advisory group would be a good idea and invited Lasdon to join them later to discuss the idea further.

Next, the commission awarded a bid for a septic system at the Cullman Regional Airport.  According to Walker, the project will cost $126,000 and be split between Cullman County and the City of Cullman, with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reimbursing the amount next year.

The purchase of e-poll tablets for voting were approved at the cost of $112,607 and will replace paper-bound books that have been used for voting up to this point. State law now requires the use of electronic ballets, and according to the Cullman County Probate Office’s Benson Clark, counties are incentivized to make the switch by getting 50 percent off of the products required.

The commission authorized Walker to enter into a lease agreement with the Cullman County Board of Education (CCBOE) for the old health department facility located at 304 Fourth Ave. NE, Cullman. According to County Attorney Chad Floyd, CCBOE Superintendent Shane Barnette requested in May that they be able to lease the building to use for a credit recovery program that is currently being held in Jones Chapel. Barnette would like to move the venue to a more central location in town. This agreement runs for four years and goes into effect on July 1 with options for renewal at a later date.

The commission authorized Walker to execute a quitclaim deed in favor of Chandler Family Investments, LLC for the abandoned right of way property located at the intersection of Section Line Road and Hopewell Road in Hanceville. The county made adjustments to the intersection after complaints about the angle of where the roads meet, making it safer and easier for trucks to navigate the area. The quitclaim deed will allow the commission to transfer ownership of the abandoned portion of the road.

Walker was authorized to sign an agreement to exchange real estate and a warranty deed with Steve and Betty Bissot concerning property owned by the County on County Road 222 and property owned by the Bissots on County Road 852. The County owned land for a tank site on County Road 222 in the Crane Hill community, but according to Floyd, the area isn’t going to be used for a tank site and was recently fenced off and being used as a staging area for pipe, gravel and other materials that the Water Department needed on that side of the county. The property is on a curve in County Road 222 and can be dangerous for trailers hauling materials pulling on and off the road. The new property is approximately 1.5 miles further to the west on County Road 222 and will make for a much safer exchange for county workers and motorists on the road.

The commission also authorized Walker to accept four burial plots in Cullman Memory Gardens Cemetery from Joe Ozbolt and transfer them into the name of the Cullman County Commission for use as indigent burial plots. Mr. Ozbolt was not in attendance Tuesday morning, but the commission thanked him for his generous donation.

Walker was authorized to enter into an agreement with William Peek to host Smith Lake Fest at Smith Lake Park on Saturday, Sept. 29. According to Cullman County Parks and Recreation Director Doug Davenport, the music festival will only be using the space around the stage and the stage itself during the event.

Floyd was authorized to file civil action against Werner Enterprises and their driver Dontie Latray Huff for damage done to the bridge on County Road 821. According to Floyd, Werner Enterprise truck driver Huff crossed a bridge on CR 821 earlier this year carrying far more weight than the maximum weight allowed posted on the bridge, causing irreparable damage to the structure. Floyd said that based on the opinion of the county engineer, Werner Enterprises’ settlement offer was significantly lower than what it will cost to repair the bridge. Floyd is still hoping for a settlement but doesn’t believe they will get any further with Werner without taking this action.

The commission accepted the City of Cullman’s Ordinance No. 2018-32 to enter into a joint agreement with the County for purchase of materials, supplies, labor or services. The ordinance will give the City of Cullman more options as far as accessing bids that the commission has in place.

The commission also extended the bond for Shoreline Estates Subdivision located in District 2 on County Road 41 through May 17, 2019. The bond is for the completion of the road in the subdivision.

To close out Tuesday’s meeting, the commission approved three proposed plats for subdivisions at different locations across the county. Fourteen lots were approved for Foster Farms Subdivision located in District 3 on County Roads 1564, 1570 and 1573. Nine lots were approved for Summerscape Subdivision in District 2 off County Road 332 and nine lots were approved for Fair Hope Subdivision located in District 2 on County Roads 437 and 395.

The commission’s next work session will be June 26 at 8:30 a.m. in the commission conference room followed by the next commission meeting in the commission meeting room at 10.  The public is invited to attend.

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