LE MARS, Iowa | Legal action is forthcoming, as the wide differences between Woodbury County and two other counties in a regional mental health services entity continue to fester.
The chasm between Woodbury County on one hand and Sioux and Plymouth counties on the other side was in full display Monday during a meeting of the Sioux Rivers Regional Mental Health and Disability Services Board.
The push by Woodbury County elected officials to not only leave the Sioux Rivers regional group but also to disband the entire agency failed by identical 2-1 votes at the meeting in Le Mars. Two representatives from each county serve on the board, with each county holding a single vote.
After the meeting, Woodbury County Supervisor Jeremy Taylor said a lawsuit will be filed against Sioux Rivers to allow the county to voluntarily exit the group. Taylor, one of the the two Woodbury supervisors on the Sioux Rivers board, said he has been consulting with the Heidman Law Firm of Sioux City.
"Unfortunately, there will be a legal process. We have every right to withdraw," Taylor said.
In early October, the Woodbury County supervisors voted, 3-2, to leave Sioux Rivers at the end of the current fiscal year in June 2018, citing its longstanding displeasure with the regional group. Two weeks later, the board also voted to pursue getting the three-county agency dissolved.
At Monday's meeting, Sioux Rivers CEO Shane Walter, of Sioux County, spoke briefly against the dissolution.
The four supervisors voting against both motions were Don Kass and Mark Loutsch of Plymouth County and Mark Sybesma and Denny Wright of Sioux County.
In an interview after the meeting, Loutsch said he is resigned to the fact that Woodbury County likely will sue to get out.
"They've been threatening it for two months now, so I expect so...I would love to still see it be a region," Loutsch said.
About 60 people crowded into a meeting room in the Plymouth County Courthouse. The audience included some former Woodbury County Board members, county sheriffs and mental health care providers. The dissolution topic was discussed by Kass, Taylor and others using the word "divorce" in analogies.
Taylor said legal action will be pursued as the next course of action, and Kass said the representatives from the other counties will likewise follow legal advice taken from their lawyers.
At the last Woodbury County Board meeting in which the topic was discussed on Oct. 17, nine people from the public spoke against exiting Sioux Rivers. Some people said they feared services to people with mental health needs could be negatively impacted. Others that day said it appears Taylor hasn't been able to compromise with Sioux Rivers officials.
On Monday, Taylor again asserted Sioux and Plymouth counties could not stand alone as a region if Woodbury leaves. Taylor authored the Oct. 3 Woodbury County resolution that said the region has "demonstrated an unwillingness to operate in a transparent and equitable manner to ensure that appropriate mental health and disability services are provided to the residents of Woodbury County.”
Keith Radig, the other Woodbury County supervisor who also serves on the Sioux Rivers board, said, "I prefer to be in a more organized region."
One victim of the disagreement Monday was a proposal for the Friendship House project of Siouxland Mental Health Center in Sioux City to move ahead with a $675,000 plan to buy a new building that reportedly would better serve people.
Friendship House official Kathy Roberts noted the $675,000 expenditure was agreed to in April, but Sioux Rivers board members postponed action on the plan Monday.
"Whether you guys are divorcing, we are the kids and you need to take care of us," Roberts said.
Wright said of that Friendship House funding, "Stay together (as a region), we'll move forward in a minute."
Other region options ahead
The state changed from a county-based to a regional method of delivering mental health services for low-income people in 2014, and counties joined together into regions.
Woodbury, Sioux and Plymouth counties formed the Sioux Rivers group in July 2014. Over the subsequent months a rocky relationship developed, with other Woodbury County supervisors threatening to leave the group in August 2016.
There is a sharing agreement specifying duties and other items of Sioux Rivers region functioning.
The Iowa Department of Human Services oversees the division of counties into regions.
The Woodbury supervisors in October began looking east when trying to find a new group of counties to join. In that action, the supervisors embarked on negotiations with Rolling Hills Community Services Region, with members from Buena Vista, Sac, Calhoun, Carroll, Cherokee, Crawford and Ida counties.
Another regional option may exist with Southwest Iowa MHDS, which includes adjacent Monona County and seven others down to the Missouri state line.