by Jack Mayne
Normandy Park city officials and a San Diego company seeking to operate a treatment facility for people suffering from chronic mental illnesses need to create a community agreement spelling out details on how the facility will operate.
Mike Bishoff, a member of the Steering Committee for the Group Homes Task Force presented the group’s first report Tuesday night at the Normandy Park City Council meeting. Six specific recommendations were made.
The task force was created last May at the request of Normandy Park City Manager Doug Schulze after “a growing controversy within our city about the new business called Hanbleceya” and originally included about 25 Normandy Park residents, city officials and state officials, health organizations and from Hanbleceya.
Bishoff said the first meeting on May 30 aimed to get some understanding of the business model of Hanbleceya and “how we could support this business or find some way to get it to assimilate into our community.
That meeting was, in Bishoff’s words, “very emotionally charged.” That prompted the group to seek out a mediator from the King County Inter-Local Conflict Resolution Group.
“It has been really helpful,” Bishoff told the council.
The group realized it must make specific suggestions to the council, so six were drawn up, he said. Full text of the report proposals is available here (PDF file).
The first suggestion is that “a legislative process to investigate and determine which Washington State agency is responsible for regulating the residential treatment model used by Hanbleceya.”
The second proposal was to “initiate communication with leaders of other Washington State cities facing the same issue, and collaborate on support needed for the legislative and administrative processes.” The task force said lobbying “with the intention of assuring that patients with severe mental illness are appropriately protected by the State of Washington” should be carried out.
Thirdly, the task force said the 40-year-old Normandy Park zoning ordinance needs to be brought up to date because things in the code are no longer permitted under state law.
Bishoff said the group wants the city council to “authorize the city attorney to meet with the Normandy Park Cares attorney, to identify mutual ways” the two groups can cooperate “in order to avoid any other actions which will potentially result in delay of resolution and/or higher legal costs.”
The task force wants the city also to “develop and implement a communications strategy” to inform city residents on “information on mental illness, personal and property safety, and how to communicate mental illness and personal safety to children.”
Finally, and Bishoff said most importantly, the city needs to negotiate a “community agreement” to be signed by the mayor, and “other interested parties.” The task force wants the council to be updated on the agreement “at each and every City Council meeting until such time an Agreement is reached, to the satisfaction of all parties.”
Councilmember Shawn McEvoy wanted to know more about the proposed community agreement.
Bishoff said he didn’t “think it is either legal or binding, but it is an agreement that the related parties all come together and develop a series of processes and solutions that allow everybody to coexist in a way that everybody sees fit and is mutually agreeable by everybody.”
He said State Rep. Tina Orwall, D-33rd, told the task force that such an agreement has worked well for other cities.
“We think there can be a strong benefit for all of the people interested to try to develop a community agreement,” Bishoff said.
It would include such thing as how the patients are selected, the types of patients, whether there would be a hotline for residents to use, how the city participates, how neighbors participate and other matters.
“There is quite a bit of information that would go into a community agreement,” Bishoff said. “We think that is really key and important and we believe it is probably the best course of action for all of us.”
Councilmember Susan West said, in addition to a hotline for incidents, “there could be an overall emergency response plan so if there was some sort of an incident, what would the plan be for the police department to respond, what would be the plan for informing the nearby neighbors – what would Hanbleceya’s plan be for dealing with an incident. We would all know what the response would be.”
Councilmember Doug Osterman asked about the proposal to update the city’s 40-year-old zoning code.
“Our zoning code weighs about 25 pounds and it is out of date and one of the things we have struggled with is the whole thing needs to be updated,” Osterman said. “Have you identified specific provisions in our single family residential zoning?”
Bishoff said the group had not gone into specific provisions.
“But the code, in general, is old and so the city attorney suggested we look at the entire code and bring it up to current state rather than looking at specific segments of it. We really don’t know what the cost is of that but the city attorney suggested was that the resources of that would actually be well spent in contrast to the potential for litigation that could happen.”
Bishoff told Osterman that the task force would not likely be a participant of such a zoning code review, but that the recommendation is that the city hire an expert to do the reviews. Such an expert could suggest the cost to update the ordinance and then the city council could make a decision on whether to proceed.
Osterman said he was pleased that the task force could move from the ambiguity to six specific recommendations. He wanted to know how the group came to its decision on specific suggestions.
Bishoff said there was an “evolution in the conversation” by the task force members.
“Initially we were surprised with Hanbleceya showing up in our neighborhood,” he said. “There was quite a bit of emotion. There was a lot of concern about the incidents that had happened, there was a lot of disinformation that was being shared across the whole community.
“In the first few weeks, there was a lot of rumor and we tried to do our best to understand the rumors and tried to vet them to make sure they were true or not. During that time we came to realize that we needed to create this organization called Normandy Park Cares to facilitate a conversation across residents of the city of Normandy Park.
“What we have learned since then is that I don’t think there is anybody that is concerned about coexisting with the mentally ill in the city of Normandy Park, I have never gotten a sense from anybody, with maybe one exception, that there is any fear or a direct issue with co-existing.
“So, what we figured out was that there was a communication gap was occurring between Hanbleceya and the residents and City of Normandy Park officials that conspired to create a very difficult and emotional issue,” Bishoff said.
“Since the task force was put together, the emotion has been reduced primarily because of the force of the mediator trying to help be objective and productive during the course of our meetings. That was very helpful but there still was tension in the room but the conversation was comfortable.
He said Hanbleceya also struggled to communicate its own processes and they still struggle to make those processes clear.
Bishoff said the Normandy Park Cares group has hired a lawyer and it seeking to have the state to oversee and regulate the “high quality of care that Hanbleceya patients need.”
“The State of Washington is best suited to do that,” he said.