by William Skink
The Missoulian today is recognizing Patty Kent’s tenure building affordable housing for those suffering from mental illness. In 23 years of doing the job, the Missoulian reports, Patty Kent is responsible for adding 208 beds of various kinds of housing capacity at an estimated cost of 21 million dollars. If you pencil out this “affordable” housing that means each bed cost roughly $100,000 dollars. From the link:
Where other people sit around and talk about building massive projects, Kent would go out and put up six or eight units at a time, he said. She has not only the the heart and passion for the center’s clients, she has the skills to make hard projects work financially.
“You have to be a savvy business person. These units are businesses, and you have to make the cash flow,” Morton said.
Kent said she’s been able to do the work because of the support far and wide: “It’s been my pleasure – completely – and privilege. Everywhere you go, it takes the entire community to say we need this, we want this. I just help move it along.”
Hopefully some of that housing will be available to deal with the consequences of closing down the Montana Development Center in Boulder, a seriously flawed move enacted by our legislature. Why was the process flawed? Because the investigation was compromised from the beginning due to a conflict of interest that should have been a flag for legislators:
The motives of the lead investigator behind a state-backed probe into alleged mistreatment of patients at the Montana Developmental Center are being questioned amid calls for the Legislature to reconsider its decision to close the facility.
Dana Toole — a Montana Department of Justice investigator and the top sleuth charged with vetting reports of abuse, neglect and mistreatment at the soon-to-be shuttered center — is married to Jeff Folsom, chief operating officer at Aware Inc., an Anaconda-based company that provides services for the mentally ill and developmentally disabled.
That company is expected to see a bump in business as a direct result of the Boulder-based center’s closure, a controversial move that won legislative approval two months after the release of a January 2015 report that featured 15 accounts of physical, verbal and sexual abuse substantiated by Toole.
A year later, the decision to mothball the center — which is expected to spell the loss of 250 jobs — remains divisive.
Six of the 15 appointees to a committee tasked with overseeing the center’s phase-out signed a March letter to the Independent Record that called reports of abuse at the center “drastically overblown” and urged the Legislature to repeal the law mandating its closure.
This information was known at the time this legislation was moving through the sausage factory in Helena, but apparently didn’t cause too much concern at the time. Also, the investigator wasn’t the only person who risked the appearance of a conflict of interest, the Democrat co-sponsor of the legislation was on the hot seat last year:
Ethics questions surrounding her investigation aren’t the first to be raised in the wake of the center’s planned closure.
This time last year, state Sen. Mary Caferro, D-Helena, caught some heat for her sponsorship of the still-controversial bill to shutter the center.
The Independent Record reported then that Caferro worked for an organization financially supported by Aware.
A business disclosure statement filed with political regulators 14 months earlier listed the company as Caferro’s sole source of salary and retirement benefits.
She told the newspaper her sponsorship of the bill did not qualify as a conflict of interest, a stance she stood by on Monday.
If this wasn’t messy enough, there’s more problematic actions occurring surrounding the use of this facility, or, more accurately, the non-use of MDC to help with overcrowding at Warm Springs, and at least one legislator is raising concerns about a state lease:
Many Montana lawmakers and state officials agreed facilities to house the state’s criminally convicted mental health patients were overcrowded.
Not as many agreed on how to pay to fix it.
Such was the conundrum Gov. Steve Bullock looked to resolve with September’s sudden announcement that the state would move those patients, and some state mental health workers, to a privately owned building in Galen, a stone’s throw from developmentally disabled patients at the soon-be-shuttered Montana Developmental Center in Boulder.
Weeks later, Montana officials signed a 19-year lease at the 38,000-square-foot former federal juvenile placement facility in Galen – terms that squeaked just under square footage and lease term requirements that would have triggered mandatory legislative review of the deal.
There was no competitive bidding process to award the Galen lease. In fact, officials said Wednesday they didn’t even look at potential alternatives to the $1.2 million annual agreement.
That’s how the state’s newest landlord became Community Counseling and Correctional Services – a Butte-based nonprofit that employs Brandie Villa, a top company accountant and the wife of Governor’s Office Budget Director Dan Villa.
With all the conflict of interest and self-serving going on, I have a question for everyone involved: does anyone actually give a shit about the people and their families caught up in this clusterfuck?
I expect more problems will arise as this situation gets sorted out. And I expect Montana to continue it’s deplorable track record of serving those with serious mental health problems.