Lawrence legislators organizing public forum on closure of SRS office, seeking answers

The Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services announced Friday that it will be closing the Lawrence SRS service center, 1901 Del.

The Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services announced Friday that it will be closing the Lawrence SRS service center, 1901 Del. by Kevin Anderson

Local legislators are planning a public forum — possibly next week — about the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services’ decision to close the Lawrence office.

SRS announced Friday that it was restructuring its offices statewide, a process that will include merging six regions into four, and closing nine offices to save money. It said the employees will be reassigned to neighboring offices, including the 87 in Lawrence. By far, the Lawrence office is the largest on the closure list.

SRS did not respond on Friday or on Tuesday to the Journal-World’s request for information about the number of caseloads at the Lawrence office. The agency also did not respond to about a dozen other questions.

House Democratic leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, and Sen. Tom Holland, D-Baldwin City, also want answers about why Lawrence was picked.

“We need to understand the scope of the caseloads. How much work is really there and can it really be supported by redirecting them to other offices,” Holland said. “I want to make darn sure that those caseloads are not going to be interrupted.”

The outcry over closure of the local office — SRS provides a variety of services for low-income children and families, as well as for people with disabilities — has been intense, said Davis.

“I’ve certainly gotten a lot of phone calls from people who are upset,” he said. “There is widespread concern about this.”

On Tuesday, District Attorney Charles Branson described the closure as potentially devastating.

“It sure seems like there’s intent here to make Lawrence an unlivable community,” he said.

His office works closely with SRS. For example, SRS workers help interview children who may be the victims of abuse or neglect. Those interviews play an integral part in deciding whether his office can file charges.

“This doesn’t just fall upon children of low social economic groups. This covers a broad spectrum of children who could be abused and neglected for various reasons,” he said.

Branson said his office hasn’t been contacted by SRS.

“There’s just a ton of things right now that are in limbo for us,” he said. “We really don’t have any idea and nobody has even bothered discussing with us what the implications of these things mean.”

Tagged: Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, SRS

Comments

Lana Christie-Hayes 3 years, 5 months ago

Here's praying that the idiocy of this decision is exposed, and that the Lawrence SRS office will not be closed. Anyone with 1/2 a brain can see that the decision to close the Lawrence off reeks of poor politics..to put it nicely!

justajoke 3 years, 5 months ago

Rumor is that SRS will not return phone calls to the LJ World, and at 5:10 today a memo went out to a few agencies that Brownback has called a press conference tomorrow at 11 in Topeka. Maybe he has finally pissed enough people off including his own Repulicans.. Let's see what BS comes out of his mouth now.

Karrey Britt 3 years, 5 months ago

SRS spokeswoman Rachel Whitten will take my calls, BUT her reply to my questions is that "she is working on them," and, then she never gets back to me or returns my calls. So, I call again and get the same reply. I also called Gary Haulmark, government affairs director for SRS, and he referred me back to Whitten. We will see if Brownback will mention SRS in his press conference today OR if he will take questions.

Karrey Britt 3 years, 5 months ago

After getting no response, I filed an official Open Records request this morning. They have three business days to respond.

lawslady 3 years, 5 months ago

OK, just what makes you think they are required to answer questions from the press? I am aware of no law (statute or common law or Constitutional provision) that requires anyone, including public officials, to respond to press queries. The Kansas Open Records Act (KORA), K.S.A. 45-215 et seq, requires provision of existing public records that are not otherwise closed by law. However, the KORA does not require the creation of a record if one does not exist at the time the request for access/copies is received. So, Isense, just why do you think that any public official is required to answer questions from the press?

lawslady 3 years, 5 months ago

I am not getting technical. I am just asking a question. You said they have to answer the questions of the press. You did not say they have to provide copies/access to requested records. So I wanted to know what law(s) require the press's questions to be answered. If you know of one, I'd like to know about it.

As for your turning my question into a record issue, if SRS or some other public agency (as defined by KSA 45-217) possesses a record meeting the terms of a request, the burden is on that agency to provide the exception that allows them to close the public record. There is a presumption of openess, IF THE REQUESTED RECORD EXISTS. The KORA does NOT require that questions be answered in response to an inquiry. It applies to already existing records.

I have no idea what records the AGENCIES may (or may not) possess, let alone what laws may allow or require them to close those records. But you may want to note that K.S.A. 45-221(a)(1) allows/requires them to close existing public records if some other law applies. So there are far more different types of laws that close different types of records than just the 47 exceptions contained in the KORA. My point, such as it was, must have not been understood.

Dan Eyler 3 years, 5 months ago

The governor and legislature made clear they were going to cut 42 million out of SRS budget. How can this be such a surprise to our Lawrence/Douglas County legislature. Regardless of the County population we sit between Topeka which is twice our size and Kansas City which is 10 times our size. Lawrence will have more than enough resources in these two locations to handle SRS needs. Clearly this isn't politics as many want to assume. This community has far more resources than the smaller communities that are struggling far worse. The governor made it very clear that he was going to assist smaller communities across Kansas which are dropping in population and resources. Rather than fighting this done deal why not start the process of pooling resources and make the best of it. In the mean time lets not pass up on businesses such as the Walmart and American Eagle distribution centers. Ottawa now has both and have seen a population increase and new small businesses that have materialized. These businesses are paying employees much higher wages than anything most jobs in Lawrence.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 3 years, 5 months ago

"The governor and legislature made clear they were going to cut 42 million out of SRS budget."

That was the first bit of idiocy, and it in no way justifies following it up with another bit of idiocy.

What do Walmart and American Eagle and your willful ignorance/distortions of history have to do with the closing of the SRS offices?

Bob_Keeshan 3 years, 5 months ago

The population of Lawrence is 92,000. The population of Topeka is 122,000.

Oops.

Kujay1966 3 years, 5 months ago

You are missing the point, and the big picture. There are allot of people that do not have transportation to and from the office in both Kansas CIty, and Topeka. This was a poor call by the governor, and the legislature.

not_that_crazy 3 years, 5 months ago

Unless I see some numbers from SRS, I am not convinvced that this will save the STATE money. It will cost more money to pay for state cars or mileage for attorneys for child in need of care cases in Douglas County Court or to establish child support or paternity. It will cost more for other required personel to travel to schools or make home visits in the one of the largest counties in the state from their new home base. I am sure there are more I am missing...SRS just isn't food stamps.

Of course, it will also cost the people who need services more....

LH3867 3 years, 5 months ago

FINALLY!!! Thank you for getting answers to this. I honestly hope it is just the beginning. The Secretary of SRS thinks he doesn't have to answer to the taxpayers of Kansas. This is obvious by his repeated refusals to resond to press requests. The taxpayers of Kansas should be outraged. We deserve answers and he is accountable for his decisions. Good job Paul and Tom~

Clay 3 years, 5 months ago

I write to you as a parent of a child who was told recently about what Social and Rehabilitation Services Child and Family Social Workers do. We passed a social worker, who I've collaborated with as a community professional, in the local grocery store and I was proud to say that she's very good at this important and difficult job of talking to kids in their homes when they have problems like secret and bad touching. I didn't get into the seriousness of these allegations or how she's like the police officer who must live the town s(he) works. I didn't explain how investigating pedophiles or other sexual acts of perpetration needs a timely response and an available presence for the vulnerable populations they protect. I didn't get into how the issues are extremely sensitive and personal, not the type of thing you can do commuting from your car or over the phone. Not the type of thing you want to make the bachelor level social worker who is doing you a great service pay gas to commute nearly an hour for after s(he) is getting paid so little as it is to do one of the most important roles in Douglas County.

When I lost my job, the first place I drove to in tears was the SRS building on 1901 Delaware. In this moment of crisis it was the best place to find help. I sought the counseling and services that only a social service agency could provide face to face. I had driven past this building many times feeling the security of it's presence, but never thought I'd be entering the doors in this way. In a zone of shock and despair I entered the annex because I had received the support of Child Support Enforcement many years back by going into this building with a general sense of needing help. I was directed to the main building and spoke to a woman with dark curly hair. She gave me the application I needed to fill out. I sat in the lobby and completed it. Someone came out and gave me a name and number of my Economic and Employment Specialist case worker. I called her and she made an appointment for me to see her in person. I marked Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF), Food Assistance and Medical. My unemployment was denied. I withdrew my request for TANF because I felt I could find a job independently. It was the compassion in her voice and the kindness in her eyes that gave me the courage to hit the pavement that same afternoon. Two days later, I had a minimum wage job. Not much more than a week later I had a vision card. Having the option of human contact at this time made all the difference in the world.

What if I need help as an elderly or disabled individual? I'll be told to go to a private or non-profit building or to apply on the computer or to talk to someone on the phone. Isn't Vocational Rehabilitation a type of counseling? Other than our children, our elderly and disabled population are our most vulnerable.

This is my story. Tell your story. Don't let Lawrence SRS be history.

Lana Christie-Hayes 3 years, 5 months ago

Good story to tell!.. I too have NEEDED the services from the Lawrence SRS office. As a disabled person, unable to work, and FIGHTING for federal disability, I have needed these services during this difficult time. I needed back surgery very badly last year, and, though it took a lot of time and footwork, it is only due to SRS, here in Lawrence, that I was able to obtain temporary insurance and get the back surgery I needed so badly. I still use the food assistance program while I wait for my now approved disability payments to kick in. I have worked hard most of my life, and have come to need a little help, and am very thankful that the Lawrence SRS office has been there, in this community, to access the needed assistance. I have no car and no $ and had no real way to get around before finally getting in touch with some friends that cared. I get no $ benefits from SRS, but I don't know what I would have done without this office being here in Lawrence.
There is one other thing that I feel I must speak on. There is a women's treatment center.. First Step at Lakeview.. here in Lawrence. I beieve there is only one other women with children's recovery center in Kansas now.. WRC in Wichita.. as all the others have already been shut down. Most of these women truly do want to get their lives together and be good mothers for their children. It would be EXTREMELY difficult for them to access necessary services in a timely manner if the Lawrence SRS office shuts down. The point I am making is that there ARE services available here in Lawrence, however, they are intermingled with SRS, It is imperative to keep this office open in order for Lawrence to be the catalyst to helping so many families!!

justajoke 3 years, 5 months ago

It isn't going to save any money. But the higher ups won't return phones calls and give any answer or how this will work. SRS employees waited all day yesterday to hear something and didn't. We are now going to be paying double the mileage and now overtime for the SW to commute. All over Doulgas county to do investigations. That doesn't count when they are sitting waiting for court for a whole day.

And to address Kansasfaithfull... The population in Wyandotte and Johnson are bigger than Doulas County too but the caseloads are the same per worker in all the counties. Sure some might be higher month to month but they equal out..

Bob Forer 3 years, 5 months ago

A noble gesture, and while I hope it bears fruit, my guess is the Brownback Administration will simply ignore its critics. After all, Governor Brownshirt only answers to god.

Bob Forer 3 years, 5 months ago

A noble gesture, and while I hope it bears fruit, my guess is the Brownback Administration will simply ignore its critics. After all, Governor Brownshirt only answers to god.

Aimee Polson 3 years, 5 months ago

There are currently 43 SRS offices in Kansas, 24 of these serve areas with a population greater than 30,000. Douglas and Sumner counties are the only two having their offices closed. Sumner has a current service area of 30,393 as it also serves Harper County. Douglas County has a service population of 112,123. I believe that these are 2009 census numbers.

Yes there are neighboring counties with SRS offices, but those 4 offices already offer services to 32% of the state's population. As it stands now, before the realignment, the top five centers (Overland Park, Wichita, Topeka, KCK, Lawrence) serve more than half the population of the state.

Bob Forer 3 years, 5 months ago

Perhaps this may be Browshirt's way of punishing the "liberal malcontents" of Lawrence who typically choose not to follow the rest of Kansas at the voting booth. Even as a cost cutting move , its rationale is suspect given that many counties with much smaller populations in their service areas were allowed to keep their offices. Smacks of rant politics to me.

oldbaldguy 3 years, 5 months ago

Fort Scott is being closed too. Bourbon County is the second poorest county in the state. Iola, Pittsburg and Osawatomie are the closet SRS offices after the closing. I would like to see numbers that support these closings. I represent children in CINC cases and parents. I can assure you that these closings will only make the process harder and more expensive for Linn and Bourbon County. I suspect Douglas County will have the same problem.

lawslady 3 years, 5 months ago

It seems pretty self-evident that Brownback closed the offices in counties that did not favor his election or policies. Kansas has elected themselves a real "Christian" all right. Someone who behaves like a petty tyrant with aspirations of some day being elected King, I mean President. I wonder if he listens to anyone who does not tell him what he wants to hear - like facts.

sourpuss 3 years, 5 months ago

Folks, we have a winner. Why should Brownback do anything for Lawrence? He's hardly losing votes there.

nanimwe 3 years, 5 months ago

This is yet another example of our State government shirking its responsibilities to citizens so that it can provide tax breaks to corporations.

lunacydetector 3 years, 5 months ago

when the 18 million dollar library gets built, lawrence will have the computer capability for the SRS clientele. we also have freenet that supplies free internet access to low or no income people. remote access for help should not be an issue at all.

Midnightblue1 3 years, 5 months ago

SRS is not just about getting food assistance.

lawslady 3 years, 5 months ago

But...the "Free Access" may be coming to an end soon too. One of the many things done this past session was to cut way back on the Kan Ed program that has, in the past, provided for such access. So Kan Ed is not going to be able to help out as much, unless some private funds are used to help keep it going at the same rate as in the past.

Midnightblue1 3 years, 5 months ago

That's the whole point. Dump the cost on someone else.

LH3867 3 years, 5 months ago

kbritt - There is a document that shows caseload numbers. I know that for a fact and if the employees of SRS weren't so afraid, you would have it. Their fear won't last much longer though. Even with the admin threatening them. (Siedlecki - employees have the right talk to the press). It's just a matter of time before they expose what has been going on in SRS since January. There are about 25 other individuals they have let go for no reason other than they served under another Governor. Actually under several other Governors (republican and democrat). Maybe they will talk. This is a big issue for Lawrence and the consumers of SRS. I'm not arguing that. I agree. However, there is so much more going on in SRS that is going to further destroy taxpayer faith in state government if there was any to begin with. The most vulnerable of populations don't stand a chance in this admin. We desperately need new leadership.

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