Independence Examiner, Saturday 06/21/03

County may review OHRCC

by James Dornbrook
The Examiner

Some Jackson County legislators are mulling creation of a review commission to study the county office that handles complaints from dissatisfied citizens.

At least one legislator says that may be the best way to settle a long-simmering dispute over how the office dealt with Robert WitbolsFeugen's complaint against the county.

Legislator Fred Arbanas, 3rd District at-large, talked with Legislature Chairman Dennis Waits this week about setting up an independent review committee to look at how the Office of Human Relations and Citizen Complaints operates and make recommendations for change.

"We review the (county) charter every 10 years. The OHRCC as been around about 30 years, but has never been reviewed," said Arbanas.

The County Charter gives the Legislature power to review but not overturn OHRCC decisions. It can only make recommendations.

WitbolsFeugen wants the Legislature to consider charter amendments to change that.

WitbolsFeugen's case stemmed from the investigation into the murder of his daughter, Anastasia. A county sheriff's deputy told suspects the name of a friend of Anastasia's who was an informant.

That friend's mother, Karen Turner, complained to the OHRCC. She later sued because she was denied access to documents and because the OHRCC deliberated in closed session without giving her a chance to cross examine or testify.

The OHRCC then ruled against Turner's complaint.

A circuit judge ruled that the OHRCC director and several commissioners violated the Sunshine Law but didn't reverse the decisions or assess the plaintiff's attorney fees to the guilty parties.

About a year ago, WitbolsFeugen asked the Legislature to intervene and review the OHRCC's decision. It has not done so.

"If you've got no action on this so far, that might show the level of interest in this course for the Legislature," said Legislator Ron Finley, 2nd District.

Waits voiced a similar sentiment.

"Nobody is of the opinion that there is anything to take issue with, beyond the result of the Sunshine lawsuit," he said.

To reach James Dornbrook e-mail or call 350-6322.
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