Prolonged arctic chill takes its toll; possible advisory board to address juvenile offenders, offer help


WHEATLAND — Icy chills held Platte County captive for a few days last week and kept maintenance crews busy, and not just from staying on top of snow accumulation. A broken generator did not provide power during an outage, the furnace failed in the jail for some hours, and a motion sensor interpreted blowing snow as smoke, triggering an alarm alerting the fire department.

“We are catching up from the weekend fun,” Jim DeWitt said at the most recent Platte County Commissioners meeting. “We are shoveling and keeping things clean… [and it] looks like the battery is shot in the generator.” As the power went out, the generator didn’t kick on to provide necessary electricity as it is meant to do. “I believe the battery is frozen. There is antifreeze leaking from the generator, and it wouldn’t even accept a charge,” DeWitt lamented. “CarQuest got us in at midnight during the power outage and we got a battery and got that put on. But it still wouldn’t start.”

According to the maintenance department head, the generator typically gives an error code and alarm if it is not functioning properly, and it is checked weekly to ensure it is in working order. The jail got down to 56 degrees in the jail at one point over the weekend, he said. “The heater in the A-pod of the jail has caused nothing but grief,” DeWitt added.

Sheriff Dave Russel mentioned that a new heater for the jail was something they had planned for in their budget. 

County Clerk Malcolm Ervin praised DeWitt for his dedication during frustrating maintenance occurrences such as this. “There is no on-call policy. Jim’s willingness to answer the phone all weekend is very much appreciated.”

Commissioner chairman Steve Shockley asked if DeWitt could use additional help.

“If I have a full staff on, then we’re pretty good,” DeWitt answered, “but I would never turn down another shoveler. A part-time person just for storms would really help.”

Shockley indicated that there were teens in the community offering their help to shovel, and the commissioners were fine with DeWitt hiring temporary/part-time shovelers when necessary. 

“They would need to be [shoveling] by 6:00 a.m., otherwise it’s not [enough to get ahead],” DeWitt added.

Ervin mentioned that the new HVAC system installed during renovation was put to the test during the extreme weather situation. “The new software has already paid for itself,” he said. “Every room in the courthouse has a back-up heater, and the tracking system is designed to keep up with that. Over the past weekend it was monitored to make sure it was functioning. [However] the fire alarm went off Saturday night as the air handling unit sucked in a chunk of snow and the motion detector eye saw it as smoke, so it shut down.” Ervin added that the fire department was alerted, and they showed up to investigate. “They were very thorough and had to go in through the roof.”

While the culprit for the alarm was not smoke, and there was no fire, the system functioned flawlessly, as it is designed to shut everything down and set off the appropriate alerts, Ervin emphasized.

Juvenile Services Advisory Board

Platte County Sheriff Dave Russel and Deputy County Attorney Marel Roth Bunker discussed the consideration of forming a Juvenile Services Advisory Board that would consist of representatives from various fields in the community that will help reduce the frequency of a young adult cycling through court. The program aim is to hold a minor offender accountable for actions while providing counseling services as well as setting up diversion programs.

Late last year a $50,000 Child Support Program grant was awarded, and part of the grant money allows for the formation of a juvenile services board. Representatives from local field offices include nine entities: Department of Family Services, public health, school district(s), prosecuting attorney’s offices, local law enforcement, county commissioners, mental health or substance abuse providers, public defender’s office, and any other professional(s) the County Commissioners or Joint Powers Board may appoint, who have the qualifications of knowledge or expertise specific to child or young adult services.

“If a juvenile gets a citation, we look at the court and we may see a certain name multiple times. I don’t like them all to have go through court,” Deputy County Attorney Marel Roth Bunker said. “We may see good grades, good attendance, but a ‘stupid decision’ has gotten them a citation. We can offer diversion; a one-time opportunity for community service and other parameters.”

Diversion programs keep young adults out of court and offers rehabilitation and/or counseling to get back on a good path. “We have some ideas in place; every state operates diversion a little differently,” she added.

The juvenile services board would require a minimum of five professionals from the previously mentioned categories. A specific individual does not have to be assigned, but it is important to have a representative from each so attendance to meetings is flexible.

“We do have our SRO officer checking in with kids; some of that grant money pays for that position. Ideally, we could appoint a board and make a broad list of representatives,” Russell said. Russell also stated there was a board in place in the past, but it was dissolved due to lack of funding.

The public is welcome to join the next Platte County Commissioner meeting on February 6 at 9:00 a.m.