Published 2:48 am Saturday, March 2, 2019

Commission chair: We hear public’s concerns

On Tuesday, the Covington County Commission, the Alabama Department of Mental Health and South Central Alabama Mental Health announced plans to build a $1.5 million secure forensic mental health facility in Andalusia.

In December, the commission purchased five acres adjacent to the county jail for the facility, which it called only an “economic development.” Alabama’s Open Meetings law allows government bodies to discuss real estate transactions and economic development in private, but requires actual votes to be taken in public.

Since Tuesday, the Star-News has had numerous inquiries about whether the facility is a “done deal,” and what they can do if they oppose it. Circuit Judge Lex Short has been vocal in his opposition to it, raising concerns about security.

Commission Chairman Greg White answered those questions Friday afternoon. Three of the other four commissioners either said they were unavailable for interviews Friday or did not return calls.

White’s interview follows:

Q: Is this a done deal?

Greg White: We have not conveyed the property at this point.

Q: Will that be on the agenda of the next meeting?

White: We don’t have it scheduled. I do know that SCMH is moving forward with architect on their plans. I don’t think there is any urgency to transfer the property.

Related story: SCAMH director: It will be secure, safe facility

Q: When is the next commission meeting, and what should someone do to get on the agenda?

White: The second Tuesday of March (March 12), at 9 a.m.

We attempt to send out an agenda on the Tuesday prior to the meeting. We like to have folks who want to address us on the agenda, if possible, when we release it. But at least three working days prior. (Editor’s note: To be placed on the agenda, contact the commission office at  (334-428-2610.)

Q: Has the feedback you’ve gotten on the mental health facility change your position at all on this facility?

White: I’ve had three conversations with Judge Short in the last week. I certainly value his input and appreciate his insight, not only in response that, but partially in response to issues he raised.

We are in conversation with the Alabama Department of Mental Health and South Central Alabama Mental Health, who are the parties to an agreement, attempting to get answers to questions that have been raised, and to get firm commitments to address concerns that have been raised.

The commission’s position hasn’t yet changed as a body.

Commissioners are having a lot of face to face meetings to discuss this.