Safety Center Workshop Planned

The mentally ill and people with addiction issues need a place to go that's not jail, which many officials in Knox County agree upon.

How that should happen is still a question. Knox County commissioners hope to get a little closer to an answer with a workshop Tuesday.

"We really need to get all kinds of people on board," Commissioner Randy Smith said.

He's on a commission committee that met this month to determine what's next with the concept of a safety center. The facility would divert the mentally ill and addicts to a treatment facility instead of jail.

The committee suggested hiring Andy Black, former CEO of the Helen Ross McNabb Center, to help drive the safety center idea forward.

"We've been at this for four-plus years, in terms of talking about the safety center," Black said, "and it's my impression that there are a number of folks on commission who are for the development of such a center."

Knox County Commission Chairman Dave Wright said he heard Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett push it in a recent Knoxville Chamber breakfast meeting. Wright added that there's been some discussion of support at the state level.

"All that stuff that has been laying around in spots, and nobody has been able to bring it together in a single pile," Wright said. "Hopefully we can get something so that we can take action."

Randy Nichols, the county's former district attorney general, had been working on the issue for Knox County Sheriff Jimmy "J.J." Jones as special counsel.

"I've just about reached the point where I don't know how to do much anymore," Nichols said. "We need to start bringing in the professionals."

He and others are hoping Black's experience from the McNabb Center will add to the effort.

"There's a lot of work yet to be done, but it will get more focused," Nichols said. "We need one person that — it's all they do, who knows what they're doing."

Commission Tuesday also will review issuing a request for proposals for vendors to operate a safety center.

Wright said that action would be to get an idea of what the cost would be to run such a facility. The McNabb Center has received previous RFPs, but no further county action has followed.

"We've got to have the cash stream to fund that," Wright said.

Black, for his part, appears optimistic that something will be done with the will of Jones, Burchett and commissioners.

"I'm optimistic that something can be put in place," Black said. "I'm hopeful that it's closer."

http://archive.knoxnews.com/news/politics/safety-center-workshop-planned-2b8290dd-f6b0-3afd-e053-0100007ff3ff-368530051.html

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