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Department of Human Services would benefit from candor

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The tale of the off-again, on-again Nokay Lake Township state group home is a primer in how government officials can shoot themselves in the foot by choosing what they think may be the course of least resistance.

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A short recap of the events of last week is needed for the uninitiated.

With little fanfare the state of Minnesota purchased property in Crow Wing County’s Nokay Lake Township with the intent of operating a group home for adults with mental and/or physical disabilities. Neighbors, including a woman who is an adjoining neighbor, a day care provider and a township supervisor, learned of the group home and wanted to learn more. At Tuesday’s informational meeting the director of Minnesota State Operated Community Services initially described the home as a “done deal” and said that it would be established in a few weeks. As residents voiced objections to the group home at the meeting the state official said that had he known there was a nearby day care he would have not selected the property. He also said he would ask the commissioner of the Department of Human Services (DHS) to rescind the decision to open the group home there.

On Wednesday the DHS announced it had suspended efforts to establish a group home at the site and said it would make a decision on its next step by Aug 8.

It was explained by the state official at Tuesday’s informational meeting that no public notification was required for this type of group home. Not required, maybe, but in retrospect, it appears the state could have saved a lot of money and trouble had it let more people know about the plans. Had officials shared their plan with more parties it surely would have surfaced that a day care was next door and that residents had concerns about the emergency response time to that area. The state satisfied the legal requirements but in the end the decision to fly under the radar wasn’t very smart.

Since the closing of the former Brainerd State Hospital, there’s a need for such group homes and we’d like to see it located in the Brainerd area. This time, however, state and local units of government should let everyone know the potential location. Government officials may catch grief and face opposition to their plans but at least they’ll know all the liabilities of a site before they act.

Mike O’Rourke

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Denton (Denny) Newman Jr.
I've worked at the Brainerd Dispatch with various duties since Dec. 7, 1983. Starting off as an Ad Designer and currently Director of Audience Development. The Dispatch has been an interesting and challenging place to work. I'm fortunate to have made many friends, both co-workers and customers.
(218) 855-5889
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