Houghton Council to hear presentation on mental health | News, Sports, Jobs

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette City Manager Eric Waara discusses his suggestion for a mental health sub-committee during the Houghton City Council meeting on Wednesday.

HOUGHTON — After a prolonged and at times heated conversation, Houghton City Council has tabled two items for further discussion next month.

Council heard a discussion of two suggestions from Councilor Brian Irizarry: the creation of a Municipal Mental Health Sub-Committee and the restoration of live webcasting for meetings of Council, the Planning Commission and the subcommittee.

Irizarry had suggested council discuss the subcommittee at its Jan. 12 meeting, following a suggestion from resident Craig Waddell.

Irizarry said the subcommittee would allow the council to get community input and bring together local actors such as police, mental health agencies and schools.

“It’s incredibly important, and I think it looks good that the city council is prioritizing something so important,” he said.

Police Chief John Donnelly said officers frequently deal with mental health issues in the community. They undergo extensive training on how to deal with people with mental health issues. The officers are the “ultimate reference agencies”, Donelly said, responding on the spot to decide whether someone unwilling to seek help poses a threat to themselves or others.

“Sometimes our crisis intervention can land someone in jail, because…they’ve broken the law to the point where that’s what we have to do, especially when it comes to drug addiction, that he whether it’s drunk driving or other laws that are broken there,” he said. “But often it’s about directing people to the right services. And it’s very difficult to get the services for people. You need to know what kind of insurance they have or what insurance they don’t have.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Waddell, who is also a candidate in the May City Council elections, said having more active city subcommittees could raise awareness of the city’s issues.

“If you have a subcommittee that meets, has an opening, brings people in and talks to them, and then comes back to report back to the full council, people will know something about what the city is doing. “, he said.

Sub-committees must have fewer than four members of the municipal council to avoid having a quorum.

They meet as needed to address a specific issue, Waara said. Last year, the city formed master planning and parking subcommittees, which met regularly; the parking deck subcommittee issued a final recommendation before disbanding in July.

Waara said the city uses subcommittees in an advisory role, rather than dictating day-to-day policy. He compared this favorably to more committee-run communities elsewhere.

“Historically, it’s as simple as thinking of something, I want to bounce it off a few people. And if I see a bunch of frowns, maybe I need to go in a different direction,” Waara said.

In a typical case, a subcommittee formed to discuss the possibility of making Houghton Avenue more bike-friendly, which involved council members and citizens. It met frequently over a two-year period but has since been inactive for five or more years, Pro Tem Mayor Robert Megowen said.

Before the council takes steps to form a sub-committee, it will hear from an expert on what is being done to tackle the mental health problem in the area at its February 23 meeting. Waara said he would invite Kevin Store, CEO of the Portage Health Foundation, to present. The board should also have a thorough discussion about what it hopes to accomplish with the subcommittee, Waara said.

“What I (would suggest) before you add a layer of something here is to really understand what the issues are and what you’re going to do about it as a city, or what individuals, maybe be advisers, would do about it. on their own, maybe be part of the board and their meetings, find out what’s going on,” he said.

During the part of the meeting dedicated to future agenda items, Irizarry discussed streaming board meetings on Zoom or another online service. Members of the public could also comment. Irizarry said he recommends the change “to facilitate greater civic engagement in local government and increase voter feedback.”

The Houghton County Board of Directors voted this month to resume the Zoom feed for the public. Houghton, like other municipalities, had been meeting remotely for much of the first year of the pandemic. The board walked away from Zoom due to “Zoom Bombing” a trend in which hecklers interrupted random meetings – including a Houghton council meeting. Meetings continued to be streamed on Facebook Live when the board resumed in-person meetings before being suspended last summer.

Megowen said broadcasting the meetings could reduce the professionalism of the board. As a cautionary tale, he invoked past eras of Hancock City Council when meetings were televised.

“It was basically a clown show” he said. “I don’t think we need to do things like that with our board.”

Councilor Virginia Cole said she would like the council to return to it in the short term, as people might be reluctant to attend at this stage of the pandemic.

“Especially because we are entering a period where we are talking in particular about parking and how to pay for it, which I think a lot of people would want to be part of,” she said.

Irizarry said he had three other items to consider for future meetings, which were removed for the time being. Waara suggested scheduling a council work session to review the issues.

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