TRAVERSE CITY — Grand Traverse County is the fifth of six counties to reach an agreement to rewrite a document that defines the Northern Lakes Community Mental Health Authority.
JWG commissioners voted 5-0 at its regular meeting on Wednesday to approve a memorandum of understanding to amend the enabling agreement, in the absence of chair Rob Hentschel and commissioner Ron Clous. The Wexford County Commission was due to approve the memorandum on Wednesday afternoon.
The Northern Lakes also include Crawford, Leelanau, Missaukee and Roscommon counties.
In May, the GTC board voted to dissolve the agreement that in 2003 created the Northern Lakes Authority. If one of the counties of the six counties withdraws from authority, it dissolves.
To create a smooth transition in which clients continue to receive services, an entity must notify the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services of its intention to create a new entity. Once MDHHS receives this notification, all parties have one year to create new agencies or authorities.
This one-year clock has not yet started. County Administrator Nate Alger told commissioners on Wednesday he believed the authority would stay together in the end.
Things that need to be changed in the enabling agreement include the Carver governance model used by the Northern Lakes Council which many find confusing; the fact that there is no way to settle grievances; treatment of people with mild to moderate mental illness and prison services.
“It may cost us more money, but we think the services are necessary,” Alger said, adding that saving money was never a goal of leaving the authority.
Commissioner Bryce Hundley said he had been concerned about the departure process from the start, although he agreed services needed to be improved.
“I still hope that this whole process leads us to a better ending,” Hundley said.
Alger said administrators and chairmen of the six county boards have met four times. The memorandum was drafted when it became apparent that other counties also had questions about the Enabling Agreement, which has been in place for nearly 20 years.
“It’s outdated – it was written in 2003,” Alger said. “The health code has changed, practices have changed.”
Northern Lakes has gone through several upheavals in recent months, including the inability to hire a new CEO, the removal of two board members and the appointment of two others.
In August, CEO Eric Kurtz of Northern Michigan Regional Entity — the 21-county funding agency in six CMHs in northern Michigan — and the NMRE Board of Directors took on the search for a new CEO for Northern Lakes and the appointment of an interim CEO.
Kurtz will oversee the CEO duties of Northern Lakes until the end of September, when Brian Martinus will be appointed until a new CEO is hired. Martinus is the Veterans Services Navigator for the NMRE.
Joanie Blamer was named interim CEO in July following the retirement of Karl Kovacs. She applied for the permanent position and after another candidate declined a job offer, Blamer got the job twice and had it rescinded. She had finished negotiating a contract, but it had not yet been approved by Northern Lakes’ 16-member board.
GTC commissioner Brad Jewett questioned whether drafting a new deal should wait until the new CEO is in place, but Alger said that was not the case.
“This deal needs to be changed no matter who is at the top of the food chain,” Alger said.
The memorandum specifies that each county is responsible for providing information on the needs of its citizens, as well as on the new agreement.
Grand Traverse County is responsible for hiring a lawyer and consultant, which they have already done.
Attorney Kirby Albright of Lansing-based Frazier Trebilcock and consultant Sarah Bannon of LVC Health will work with the counties. Bannon led a recent listening session with several area agencies that identified gaps in mental and behavioral health services.
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