According to the most recent census, Canadian County has approximately 145,000 residents. When I went through Leadership Canadian County a few years ago, we were one of the top 10 fastest growing counties in the US.
I have been an Oklahoman for the last 28 years and have lived most of that time in our county and it has been amazing to watch it grow into the community that it has become.
I’m also looking forward to the growth and potential that is still coming in our various communities. However, with growth comes other problems that have to be addressed as well. In past columns we have talked about Oklahoma ranking at the bottom in things like education, criminal justice reform and children in custody due to abuse and neglect.
Our low scores in these areas and matters involving our County Center have had me thinking a lot about our juvenile justice center this last week.
Title 10A of the Oklahoma Statutes sets out the law in regard to the children in our Oklahoma Juvenile Justice system. Oklahoma law provides that for every county with 80,000 or more citizens there should be a children’s justice bureau established. Juvenile Justice services that are to be offer include but are not limited to services for the children to eliminate the conditions that caused court involvement in their life such as education, vo-tech programs, medical and substance abuse treatment; services designed to help the parents to eliminate these conditions and strengthen their family and to eliminate abuse, neglect and to provide proper care and supervision of the kids; and other community based preventative services such as transitional living, rehab services, crisis intervention, independent living and other services that are appropriate. See 10A OK 2-1-101
The law also sets out the qualifications of the Director of the Children’s Bureau, requiring that the director be at least 30 years of age, qualified in social work, and familiar with the problems of juvenile delinquency and dependency, and be of “good moral character.” 10A OK 2-1-102. The Director is hired by the Juvenile Bureau Judge and is subject to his/her management and supervision in the performance of their duties and the Director may be removed by the Juvenile Bureau Judge. Id.
Further, the Director and other employees at the Juvenile Bureau have to comply with the rules and programs of the Office of Juvenile Affairs. The Judge of the Juvenile Bureau establishes the budget for the operation of the bureau and the Judge also sets the salaries for the employees who work for the juvenile bureau. 10A OK 2-1-107. However, the county by and through the County Excise Board is responsible for raising the funds for the operation of the juvenile bureau. Id.
Canadian County’s Juvenile Bureau is located at the Children’s Justice Center located on Route 66 between Yukon and El Reno. It has been open since 1999 and it is one of the most comprehensive juvenile bureau systems in the state of Oklahoma. The center has been managed by the same Juvenile Bureau Judge since 2008. This should make the center a jewel in the crown of Canadian County growth and development.
However, this facility has dealt with its share of controversy since its inception as well. Over the years, there has been much debate regarding the only county wide sales tax in Canadian County was used to fund the construction and operation of the facility. In 2016 there was vote to reduce the amount of the sales tax because the county commissioners felt that the tax was generating more funds than what was needed to operate the center.
The vote ultimately failed and the center kept its $.35 sales tax to fund the operations.
However since that time there have been multiple EEOC complaints filed against the County/Center due to allegations of hostile work environment sexual harassment made against multiple directors of the facility.
The County is currently under threat of multiple lawsuits due to the allegations against the Director and the termination of the Center’s Human Resources Director who was one of the individuals complaining about the hostile work environment.
Unfortunately it seems that as we take steps forward to protect our children and families in the community, these old patterns of conduct continue reappear in the workplace.
Inappropriate humor, innuendo and locker room talk are making it into our safest spaces and calling into question the professionalism of the services that we provide to the most vulnerable citizens. Services are being funded but are they being provided to those that need them?
Now that you know the law on the establishment and management of a juvenile bureau I ask you “Are we doing the right thing with our juvenile bureau in Canadian County?”