Juneau Assembly backs mental health layoffs

Posted: Tuesday, May 16, 2000

JUNEAU (AP) -- The Juneau Assembly has passed an ordinance authorizing the dismantling of the city's mental health services, a measure aimed at heading off a lawsuit filed by workers facing layoffs.

The announcement by city management that the health services would be privatized prompted a lawsuit filed by the Marine Engineers' Beneficial Association, which represents the 40 workers who are facing layoff.

The suit charged the city violated its charter by altering the Department of Health and Social Services without an ordinance directing it to do so.

The city has maintained the ordinance is unnecessary.

''There is no legal requirement for an ordinance at this point, and there may never be,'' City Attorney John Corso said before Monday's vote. ''However, it is possible that at some point in the process it would be legally prudent to have an ordinance.''

The ordinance does not invalidate the suit, and the union has asked the court to declare the city's action to alter the department illegal, spokesman Greg O'Claray said.

''The city charter is clear: You can't alter a city department without an ordinance,'' O'Claray said. ''What Mr. Corso has written is gibberish.''

Corso today argued that the disputed changes in the department have not yet come to pass, and that the ordinance ''is a reflection of the community concern about the issues and the objections made by the unions.

The transfer of the city's mental health services is proceeding well, said Deputy City Manager Donna Pierce.

''The state has agreed to work with the Juneau Alliance for the Mentally Ill and with Juneau Youth Services,'' Pierce said. ''They've done all their discussion and will give all notices of grant awards in June.''

State funds provided in the past to the city for mental health services will be provided to the community through JAMI and JYS, said Karl Brimner, director of the state Division of Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities.

Brimner said the bulk of the transitition is expected to occur on June 30.

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