New commission selected to govern mental health tax

Monday, May 13, 2013 | 4:57 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — With its inaugural public meeting next week, the Boone County Children's Services Commission is beginning to take shape. 

The nine-member commission was created after Boone County voters approved a quarter-cent sales tax in November to pay for mental health services for people age 19 and younger. Voters passed the measure, called Putting Kids First, by a margin of 57 percent to 43 percent.

The tax is expected to generate an estimated $5.4 million per year.

The Boone County Commission appointed members to the new board. They include Suzette Forbis, Gregory Grupe, Bruce Horwitz, Michele Kennett, Nancy McKerrow, Dewey Riehn, Kathy Thornburg, Les Wagner and Jennifer Walker.

The inaugural commission will serve terms of staggered lengths, Northern District Commissioner Janet Thompson said.

Wagner, Kennett and Grupe will serve three-year terms; Horwitz, Thornburg and Walker will serve two-year terms; and McKerrow, Riehn and Forbis will serve one-year terms.

The members were selected from an applicant pool of 30 people whom Southern District Commissioner Karen Miller described as highly qualified. Thompson said that during interviews with the applicants she was very impressed with their records of service.

"This board is going to do amazing things," Thompson said. "When you look at their body of knowledge on children's mental health and their willingness to give back to their community, it is all very humbling. They all bring something to the table, from foster parent to public defender to educator, we have all different walks of life here on this commission."

One of the commission's members, Grupe, is a former social studies teacher at Jefferson Junior High and assistant principal at Hickman High School in Columbia. He said he wanted to apply for the commission because of situations he witnessed while working 30 years in education.

"Thinking back on those families I saw that were in crisis, without the appropriate outpatient support services or safe housing stuck with me," Grupe said. "I want to make sure kids don't slip into the system or so far down into the cracks that they can't ever get out of them."

Once the commission's bylaws and organizational paperwork are done, the commission will put out requests for proposals, Miller said. A request for proposals is similar to a bid.

"It is more comprehensive because it identifies the step's you'll take, the outcomes you expect to get and the assessments used to gauge the success of the program," Miller said. "These programs could be from anywhere, not necessarily from Boone County."  

Lorenzo Lawson of the Youth Empowerment Zone, an organization that helps youth in the First Ward find employment, said he hopes the commission will find programs to help children who are incorrectly diagnosed as having attention deficit disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

"I'm honestly not sure if they can tackle this, but I think they seriously need to look at the amount of psychiatric medicine that children are taking today," Lawson said. "For a lot of these kids, it isn't a disorder. It is simply their diets are out of whack. We are lacking the appropriate services to accurately diagnosis and treat children today."

Thompson said the commission wouldn't have been created without the help of Christine Corcoran and other Putting Kids First committee members.

Corcoran said it was a dream come true for her to meet the new commissioners during an open house Wednesday.

"This is an awesome group of individuals," Corcoran said. "While this $5.4 million may seem like a lot of money, it will be worth it if we can get just one kid the mental health services he or she needs. This group of people will be excellent stewards of the taxpayers' money."

Grupe seconded Corcoran, saying the Children's Services Commission will be transparent and accessible.

"The Boone County commissioners trust us to be on this commission, and we are going to make sure we don't let them down," Grupe said.

Thompson said that though Boone County residents might grumble about the additional sales tax, they should remember why voters passed it.

"Were we the first county to enact this? No," Thompson said. She noted, however, that none of Boone's surrounding counties have sales tax dedicated to mental health services for young people.

"What we are doing is leading by example for other counties because the money raised here is going to do important work. It is going to protect our most valuable resource, our children."

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

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