HARRISON – Community Services Director Lori Phelps provided a brief update to the Clare County Board of Commissioners at its Dec. 15 meeting. The sole item she noted was a mobile health unit visit that week which provided care for seniors who do not have primary care providers, a program which had been developed and implemented in cooperation with the Central Michigan University Medical School.
“They bring it here, so we are transporting our most vulnerable adults who don’t have a primary care provider to the unit,” Phelps said. “So, they’re able to see doctors and get medical treatment. Some of these people haven’t ever seen a doctor. We partnered with CMU with a grant about three years ago, and now it’s coming to fruition,” she said. “So it’s going to be happening once a month, and we’re pretty excited about it.”
Also addressing the commissioners was Mark Toaz, court administrator, who sought a circuit court allocation for visiting judges who would be filling in for 55th Circuit Court Judge Thomas Evans. A recent, severe stroke had sidelined Evans for what looks to be a lengthy recovery period, and some retired judges had been procured to cover Evans’ docket temporarily.
“Unfortunately, they’re $400 a day to cover for us,” Toaz said. “We’re asking as little of them as possible; right now it’s one day a week, and Judge Mienk is covering as best he can the rest of the hearings.”
Toaz said the allocation being requested was to be used in emergencies for the visiting judges, with an understanding the majority of the requested funds likely would not be spent. Being aware that stroke recovery can take weeks, months or even years, the working timeline is six months with the understanding that it could be shorter or could require reassessment.
Noting that Gladwin County had committed to a $25,000 allocation, Toaz said that the combined counties’ total of $50,000 would probably be high, but that an equal $25,000 allocation from Clare County would eliminate the necessity of a second request at a later time.
“At once a week at $400, that money probably won’t get up to $25,000 but just so we don’t have to reschedule a bunch of things in case we can’t afford to have a visiting judge sitting,” he said.
Ultimately, the board moved to approve a motion to contribute $5,000 to start, with a ceiling of $25,000.
Prosecutor Michelle Ambrozaitis also addressed the board, noting that her office currently has 850 open cases which are being shared among four attorneys. She noted that Annette Howe, a Gladwin attorney, had been recruited to serve as assistant prosecutor and would begin work Jan. 10.
“We are super excited to have the extra help coming,” Ambrozaitis said.
Sheriff John Wilson spoke to commissioners about the difficulties faced at the jail due to COVID-19 as it is creating an inability to bring people into the jail due to limited holding cell space.
“Right now, we only have four holding cells, and it can be taken up by somebody with mental issues, assaultives, stuff like that,” he said. “My max [maximum security] cells are full of people that kill people. So we need to look at expanding that area so I can bring people in and quarantine them properly.
“I have about 27 people back there right now that have COVID,” he said. “Nobody’s serious; we’ve quarantined them and our numbers are down enough we can separate the out for 10 days. The state wants us to go back to 14 – we follow whatever MDOC tells us to on that.”
Wilson requested that commissioners put the thought of a holding area revamp in their heads for the next round of recovery funding, adding that it would be COVID-related. He said judges are upset with his office, because there are people who need to go to jail, but he is unable to safely house them.
Board Chair Jeff Haskell asked if Wilson could provide a plan and an estimate for the project, and Wilson replied, “We’re working on it.”
The sheriff said he had several employees out at that time, leaving the department way understaffed. However, Wilson said he had one FTO [field training officer] who would be done that week, and another who would be doing an accelerated FTO as he had worked for the CCSD before and would not require the usual 12-14 weeks. He also reported that Deputy Aaron Miller who had left to work for Gladwin County, had returned to work part time in the courthouse.
A recent issue at Farwell Schools was mentioned, and Wilson spoke of the CCSD’s response, noting the many officers in place to address that issue. He said there was an officer in every school for the two weeks prior to Christmas break, adding that a contract company was paying for those officers.
“We have reserves,” he said. “We have at least one certified onsite every day. The gentlemen that work at our college are going over there every day, so there’s tons of experience. I stopped down there a couple times and spent half a day in Farwell, and it’s running good.”
Law enforcement millage was brought up by the sheriff also. He said that if it was going to be pursued, it should be started on in January.
“I have some things from other counties that did law enforcement millages, with the wording so the money is directed for that purpose,” he said.
Wilson also said he would be the Clare County Building “plow guy” through the end of January, as one regular plow person would be using up accumulated vacation time, and another would be on medical leave. He also noted a shortage of trustys, which could necessitate Senior Services having to spread its own sidewalk salt.
On a more somber note, the sheriff brought up the passing of Hayes Township resident Stan Lewis.
“A dear friend, he was a friend to everybody, nobody was his enemy,” Wilson said. “This guy was awesome. He was our Hayes Township guy; he organized the Neighborhood Watch out there, and he was just a great guy.”
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