Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

Commission hears court planning update


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Bessemer — County judges reported Wednesday that an ongoing strategic plan process, although slowed by the coronavirus pandemic, has exceeded expectations in terms of participation and results.

The report on the grant progress and implementation of a two-year court operation plan and four-year court strategic plan came as a presentation to the Gogebic County Board of Commissioners.

The presenters at the meeting included Circuit Court Judge Michael Pope and District Court Judge Anna Talaska, along with the State Justice Institute grant funded consultant, Brenda Wagenknecht-Ivey, CEO of Praxis Consulting, Inc., who attended remotely from Muncie, Indiana.

Pope said the purpose of the plan was to review and update the mission, core values and vision for the courts in Gogebic and Ontonagon counties. 

The mission is to “provide equal access while administering fair and impartial justice to our communities,” Pope said. The core values are to be “understandable, courteous and efficient.”

The vision of the courts is “serving and enhancing our communities through innovative and effective practices,” he said.

The strategic goals of the courts are to improve access, services and programs, Pope said. This includes ensuring processes are understandable, meet the needs of those who use them, and are efficient.

Examples of strategic goals for 2020-21 include a self-help kiosk and other information in print and online. The court also plans to implement a pre-trial release program.

Long range goals include operational efficiency and effective use of resources, Pope said. The goal is for separate and siloed courts that are accustomed to operating under a single umbrella to further integrate, consolidate and coordinate as one court wherever possible.

Examples for 2020-21 include the development of an integrated administrative structure. Another example is cross-training priority areas to include court reporting, probation, circuit scheduling and probate position.

The third strategic goal is for fair and timely resolution of legal matters, Pope said. One example for 2020-21 is the E-Filing system in collaboration with the State Court Administrative Office.

As these structural changes are implemented Pope said it is also important that staff understand the bigger picture to “know where they are headed and what they want to do.” It is also important to look at trends in the community in terms of the social, economic, technological, education and economic factors that impact people who are served by the court.

Input from partnering agencies is important to developing evidence-based strategies to avoid incarceration with support mechanisms when possible to include mental health and addiction, he said.

Wagenknecht-Ivey said the Gogebic and Ontonagon court staff surveys had 100% participation, and there was 84% participation from external partners, which are the highest she has encountered in her 20 years of conducting these studies. 

The survey results give great confidence that many different voices and opinions were included, she said. The participation helps ensure a difference of opinion is included with the responses to help with real planning. 

In other business the commission 6-0 received the 2020 apportionment report. Commissioner George Peterson was not present.

Equalization Director Kathy Jo Koval said strong home sales and the rate of inflation brought an increase in taxable value for some communities. The Headly Act required a rollback to ensure districts do not collect more than the previous year.

The work started with a sales study that assessed properties at 50% of true cash value, she said. A ratio based on sales determined a new 50% ratio for the county to direct taxing districts to increase or decrease the millage based on market value.

“What we see right now is crazy, properties are selling,” Koval said. “The August, September and October sales have been bringing the values up in the community.”

The commission approved a recommendation from the county Finance, Budgeting and Auditing Committee to receive $14,250 in grant funds from the Homeland Security Board. According to a written communication from Heidi DeRoso, county emergency management and 911 coordinator, the funds reimburse equipment purchases for the Regional Rapid Response Team to include tactical laptops and mobile devices, propane flare and response kits, AreaRAE gas sensors and rechargeable lanterns.

The commission also:

—Approved receipt of a $22,000 COVID-19 relief grant.

—Heard Commission Chair Dan Siirila state he extended the county emergency declaration regarding the pandemic to ensure the county qualifies for any potential relief funding.