Steve Wilson | June 19, 2015 | www.MississippiWatchdog.org
CORINTH, Miss. — Apparently, theMississippi Board of Mental Health doesn’t have five minutes to hear from a taxpayer.
In a meeting Thursday, Linda Woods wanted to tell the board about a loved one’s experience in one of the state’s taxpayer-funded halfway houses.
The board, which meets once a month, voted against giving her any time. It told her if she emailed the Mississippi Department of Mental Health there’s a chance officials could place her on agenda next month.
Woods says her loved one lived for two weeks in the Oxford House on Northside Drive in Jackson and two weeks in Meridian, where he relapsed three times before leaving for a residential facility in Texas.
MDMH spokesman Adam Moore said the requests to be placed on the agenda “must be made by noon on Monday of the week prior to the meeting. The Board of Mental Health votes at the outset of each meeting to approve or disapprove the agenda, subject to revisions by the board.
“Parties not on the agenda appearing at the meeting may only address the board if recognized.”
The board Thursday placed a time limit on a presentation by state Sen. Will Longwitz, R-Madison, about the growing problems with the 17 Oxford Houses. A representative of the Attorney General’s office timed Longwitz with a stopwatch, and the board refused to give him any more time.
Longwitz tried to plead Woods’s case, but board member Robert Landrum told him he was tired of hearing about the Oxford House situation — “after having to sit through it” in the last meeting.
The nine-member board, appointed by the governor to seven-year terms, acts as the governing body for the Mississippi Department of Mental Health, which administers the $1,189,391 grant given last year from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The money goes toward paying the Oxford House Inc. outreach coordinators, who are supposed to recruit new residents and oversee the houses.
Jerri Avery, the MDMH’s director for Bureau of Alcohol and Drug Abuse and attended the meeting, gave $1,000 to Longwitz’s primary opponent William Billingsley, according to campaign finance records from the Mississippi Secretary of State’s office.
When asked for a comment about the controversy, Oxford House regional outreach coordinator Lori Holtzclaw gave a terse “no comment” and walked away.
Longwitz said the Oxford House controversy has made him aware that reform might be needed with the agency due to its lack of oversight over the grant. Gov. Phil Bryant’sletter to MDMH indicates he’s also concerned with their stewardship over the grant.
“We have to at least ask the question, since the Department of Mental Health is an agency appointed by the Governor and directly accountable to him like Medicaid,” Longwitz told Mississippi Watchdog. “Right now, the situation we have is a state department that is accountable to nobody.”
Eleven of the 17 houses have two or more vacancies according to the report filed with the MDMH by the Oxford House. According to Oxford House rules, houses are supposed to be filled before new ones are chartered.