Acting against emotional pleas from mental health advocates, a Milwaukee County Board committee Wednesday voted to extend the contract of a private vendor that knowingly hired a sex offender to work with patients with mental illness.
The board’s Health and Human Needs Committee voted 5-2 to keep Our Space Inc. for the rest of the year to provide peer specialists to work with patients at the Mental Health Complex and at supportive housing apartments where the county offers services to former patients. County mental health officials recommended renewing Our Space’s contract to avoid a gap in services and to seek new bids for the pact for 2013.
Supervisors Peggy Romo West, Michael Mayo Sr., Joe Sanfelippo, David Bowen and Russell Stamper II voted to extend the Our Space contract through the end of the year. Supervisors Nikiya Harris and Steve F. Taylor voted no.
It’s worth noting that an official from Our Space admitted that organization’s decision to hire James Batovsky may have violated terms of Our Space’s contract with the county, but despite that violation, supervisors still granted Our Space an extension of their contract.
What’s more, an audit of Our Space also found that Our Space had sometimes failed to conduct background checks on its employees, including five peer specialists who auditors discovered had felony convictions. According to the Journal Sentinel, the county’s Combined Community Services Board unanimously recommended the county not renew its contract with Our Space, while five mental health advocacy organizations and two individual peer specialists signed a letter to the county seeking a thorough review of Our Space, better training on how to hire peer specialists and stronger support for peer counselors on the job.
I’d say I’m disappointed in those county supervisors who voted to extend the contract of an organization that hired sex offenders and convicted felons to provide mental health services, but I’m not, because I’ve come to realize I can’t put anything – no matter how outlandish – past some of the folks who currently hold seats on the County Board.