The Dane County Board of Supervisors will consider overriding Executive Joe Parisi’s partial veto of language surrounding the distribution of $2 million in funds for mental and behavioral health services in the 2020 budget.
Parisi vetoed language that the Board of Supervisors included in an amendment adding $1 million to the $500,000 that the executive allocated for the newly created C.J. Tubbs Fund for Hope, Healing and Recovery.
The vetoed language outlined a process to develop criteria for the distribution of money from the C.J. Tubbs Fund in addition to $500,000 for neighborhood centers that provide mental and behavioral health services.
“Corporation Counsel reviewed the language and advised it be removed given it is inconsistent with the recent legal opinion,” Parisi said in his budget signing memo Nov. 15.
A memo from Dane County Corporation Counsel in June 2017 states that the Department of Administration has authority over “all aspects of the RFP process.” Specifically, DOA has sole authority over drafting and issuing request for proposals, including timing, determining scoring criteria and choosing the vendor, according to the memo.
“The Board may certainly require public input to inform decision making. It may also create a subcommittee that takes information on ‘identified gaps’ in services,” Corporation Counsel Marcia MacKenzie said in a memo to Chief of Staff Josh Wescott Nov. 14. “What it cannot do is recommend or approve criteria. Nor can it set a timeline for issuance of the RFP.”
Further, MacKenzie said deleting the language from the amendment is "required by law."
"Therefore, any veto override would be void and unenforceable as illegal," MacKenzie said.
Wescott said mental health services are an extension of county government's human services responsibility, in which the county hires entities to provide for community services. Because of this, the county uses a request for proposal process.
"Again, because the work is an extension of county government — not dollars awarded for discretionary, non-mandated services — like parks or trails for example — we use an RFP process to objectively award funds," Wescott said in an email.
From the beginning, Shawn Tessmann, director of the Department of Human Services, said the C.J. Tubbs initiative was going to be handled competitively through a request for proposal process and not as a grant. Grants refer to fund processes where proposals are not evaluated against each other in a competition, Tessmann said.
Board Chair Sharon Corrigan said supervisors included the amendment in the 2020 budget because the funding was “vaguely” directed for behavioral health.
“Since there was no direction given in the budget, we felt like it wasn’t right of the executive to only meet with people he chooses to meet and carve up $2 million at his discretion,” Corrigan said. “The community should be weighing in on this, not just those who are invited to meetings.”
Wescott said 25 neighborhood and community center leaders met with Parisi and Tessmann several weeks ago to discuss the best way to structure a request for proposal.
"This provider input is critical," Wescott said.
The process outlined in the board’s amendment directed the Department of Human Services to engage in a public strategic process to gather input from the community and clients with lived experience. Additionally, the amendment tasked the department with developing criteria for the distribution of funds and issuing a request for proposals for the grant programs.
The amendment also authorized the chair of the Health & Human Needs Committee to appoint a subcommittee to receive presentations by the Department of Human Services, hold a public hearing and approve the criteria.
In a memo sent to county board supervisors Tuesday, Corrigan said the issue at hand "deals with the fundamental budget authority of the County Board."
"Letting this veto stand severely and mistakenly reduces the authority of the County Board," Corrigan said.
Corrigan said in the memo that it is "unclear" if the opinion from corporation counsel regarding the specifics of the RFP process is correct. She said two attorneys experienced in this issue shared feedback that led her to believe the executive "overreached in his effort to diminish the Board's budget authority."
Additionally, Corrigan said she met with Deputy Corporation Counsel Carlos Pabellon who said that a grant program is another name for a contract and that restrictions applied to RFPs could be interpreted to apply to all grants.
Because of this, Corrigan said "letting this amendatory veto stand jeopardizes not only public input and transparency for any mental health grants, but also the ability of the County Board to continue to establish policy objectives" in the distribution of other grants.
Also, Corrigan reported that the opinion could mean the county board does not have the authority to specify the recipient of county dollars in a process of sole source appropriations. In the 2020 budget, sole source funding was included for organizations such as the Rape Crisis Center.
Corrigan has asked that the board's agenda for Thursday at 7 p.m. in room 201 of the City-County Building, 210 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd., be amended to include consideration of an override of the budget veto. Corrigan has also asked for consideration of a late referral permitting the county board to seek outside counsel.
"Because the county executive rationalized his veto based on a legal opinion from corporation counsel, we should seek outside counsel to help clarify the Board's authority," Corrigan said.
Mental health resource call center
Overriding the county executive's veto would not affect a new Universal Access Resource Center, Corrigan said in her memo.
On Monday, Parisi announced the center, which is meant to be a one-stop resource to improve access to mental and behavioral health care by providing a central location staffed by professionals to help patients and families navigate care.
The county plans to use some of the $1.5 million allocated for the C.J. Tubbs Fund for the new center, according to spokeswoman Ariana Vruwink.
Vruwink said the county estimates that about $400,000 will be needed for 2020, and the full annual cost will be closer to $800,000. It will likely be housed in a county facility, Vruwink said.
The call center is tentatively slated to open in early summer 2020 with staff hired in the spring, pending review by the Dane County Board of Supervisors in the coming weeks. Supervisor Shelia Stubbs, District 23, plans to introduce a resolution to enable the center to move forward, according to corrigan.
After opening, the center will be open from noon to 4 a.m. seven days a week with professional resource staff to help connect individuals with available care and treatment.
“By working together, bringing private health providers and the county together in this first-of-its-kind bold collaboration, we can better coordinate care and improve outcomes for those who struggle with mental and behavioral health and addiction,” Parisi said in a statement Monday.
The staff team will be expected to be knowledgeable about service delivery changes and inform residents seeking information on how to access care regardless of if they use public or private health care systems.
With this call center, Dane County would be moving toward the vision of integrated care coordinated through a single access point.
“The very nature of mental illness can deter those who suffer from it from advocating for their own care and well-being,” Parisi said. “When you combine that with the maze of service options that are affected by whether one has insurance, where that insurance allows them to be seen, and potential overlap with publicly available services, it’s clear we as a community can do better in the area of mental health access.”