PREBLE COUNTY — Preble County Juvenile Court recently filed necessary paperwork with the Preble County Board of Commissioners noting its intent to terminate and withdraw from a West Central Juvenile Rehab Governance Agreement.
According to Judge Jenifer Overmyer, this is a last resort and the county hopes to be able to withdraw its letter and stay within the agreement. If the agreement is terminated, however, it will become necessary for the court to find an alternative facility for juvenile rehabilitation, at potentially higher cost to the county.
Preble County is one of five Ohio counties who recently submitted documentation to withdraw from the agreement. This means all counties involved in the agreement, minus Miami County, have made their intent to leave the agreement known.
Judge Overmyer explained, the West Central Juvenile Rehab Center has always been housed in Miami County. The first kids were accepted into the facility in 1993 and — at that time — they were overseen by an advisory board. The Ohio Department of Youth Services (DYS) is the funder for the facility. There is an administrative code that covers these facilities called CCF (Community Corrections Facility). According to Overmyer, that code puts the operation of the facility in the hands of the board.
In 2007, DYS suggested they change from an advisory board to a governance board. The current governance agreement dates back to 2007.
The following counties have representatives on the board: Miami, Preble, Auglaize, Shelby, Darke, and Mercer. Each county has their juvenile judge as a member of the board and a non-judicial member. The board meets quarterly. Overmyer herself has been a member of this board for approximately 10 years.
“Frankly, we never really had issues the board had to deal with. We never had disagreements. Our quarterly meetings went very smoothly and we took care of business,” she said.
However, the board started hearing “grumbling” from employees within the facilities. There is a new judge in Miami County who fired the Executive Director of the West Central Juvenile Rehab Center. The other five judges were unhappy, as they were never notified of this decision until it was already made. They were not consulted as a board.
“We had not been made aware of any problems. The Ohio Administrative Code pretty clearly says the director works for the board, so, we had a difference in opinion,” Overmyer said.
She added, all counties except Miami County believe legally the board should have been consulted before the decision to fire the Executive Director was made. However, the Governance Agreement and Bylaws do state the employees of the facility are employed by Miami County.
“It has said that since 2007, and we have not had an issue with that since 2007. I think, what the others thought and what I think, that meant for fiscal and administrative purposes. Of course, the six counties were not going to pay one sixth of the salary. We were not going to issue every employee six paychecks. Again, it has never been a problem until we had a new judge. I hope the new judge is not just trying to be difficult, I think he truly believes he is in charge and has to fire [the Executive Director],” she said.
“He has fired another person since then. We are at the point now — we have to give one year notice to leave the agreement and that ends in about September of 2020. All five of us have given our notice. Nobody wants [to leave the agreement], but we feel like [we had to] to protect our counties. I want to protect Preble County. I don’t want to subject myself or the county to liability for wrongful termination, or God knows what.
“We gave our notice to withdraw from the agreement. [The letter] made it very clear to Miami County and the other judges, we don’t want to get out, we just can’t operate under this current agreement. Sadly, we did for many years, but some of [the agreement] has been taken very literally. We need to clarify what the board’s role is, what Miami County’s role is, but we want to continue.”
West Central Juvenile Rehab Center now has an Interim Director who has been appointed. Overmyer added, the person who was fired does not intend to file a lawsuit at this time.
For Overmyer, the problem is the board does not have the authority they thought they did. Now, the agreement has to be clarified so all six counties involved know what is expected of them and what their role is. If the situation is resolved, Preble County would simply have to revoke their intent to leave the agreement.
However, the board would have to make changes to how they operate first.
“We need some specificity to who are making the decisions. We are concerned – because the idea is, of course, could Miami County just run it and we send kids there — the concern is DYS would not allow Miami County to have it solely. One, because Miami County is not big enough to be a single county facility. Two, there are other CCFs nearby that would eat us up and dissolve West Central,” she said.
“There are concerns that we can’t legally give Miami County sole control. Legally, the board has to be more active than that, we don’t think we can delegate that kind of authority. We can’t ignore our duties. We don’t think that can happen and if that can’t happen or if we choose we don’t want that to happen, the idea is we have to be very specific about what duties are going to be performed by Miami County and the board.
“Bottom line: we have to have specification regarding how this is going to work. We cannot have decisions made as a board that are then ignored by one county, or things that are happening that are not brought to the board.”
With the letter already noted by the Board of Commissioners, Preble County will be out of the West Central Juvenile Rehab Governance Agreement in September of 2020, unless it is decided to revoke that decision. Removing themselves from this agreement could have financial ramifications on Preble County.
“We will have to find another place to send kids and it will probably be farther away and not as good for our kids. We have a proven track record with West Central — not saying there aren’t other good facilities, but we will have to start from track with the new facility,” she said. “[Costs] could very well go up. My gut is they’re not going to go down. If anything, we’re talking about a farther distance, which is going to be more money and more time.”
Ultimately, Overmyer believes it was necessary to file the necessary paperwork and potentially remove themselves from the agreement in order to protect Preble County from any legal proceedings.
“We want to keep the facility, but we also want to watch the liability that might be associated with it being run the way a couple things have happened the last six months,” she said.
Reach Kelsey Kimbler at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @KKimbler_RH