DIGHTON — Roughly 350 Dighton residents showed up for a town hall Tuesday night to demonstrate opposition to locating a sexual predator reintegration facility in a closed assisted-living home in this town of 1,200 residents.
“This is a pretty impressive community,” Parsons-based Mike Dixon, who oversees the Sexual Predator Treatment Program for the state, said as he looked at the standing-room only crowd packed into the 4-H Building at the Lane County Fairgrounds.
“We don’t want you,” came a voice from the crowd.
“I think that’s pretty clear,” Dixon said.
A panel of seven officials from the state was at the front of the room. Absent was Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services Secretary Tim Keck, but Deputy Secretary and Communications Director Angela de Rocha was on the panel.
“Who makes the decision?” Dighton resident Chanda Bush asked.
It will be Keck’s call, but de Rocha said, “We’re not going to put this facility here if nobody wants it.”
The state has three reintegration facilities — all on state hospital grounds at Larned, Osawatomie and Parsons, according to Dixon. The state needs a fourth home to accommodate people at the Sexual Predator Treatment Program at Larned who qualify to move to a supervised environment, where they are given more responsibilities, including working at jobs in the community.
In September 2017, representatives from Aging and Disability Services were in Dighton to tour the former Diamond View Estates assisted-living center that had failed because of low residency. The property became the state’s due to the mortgage loan partnership the state participated in at the time of construction. The focus during the site visit was the winterization of the empty building.
But the tour dovetailed with Aging and Disability Services preparation for future fiscal budgets. Funding for a fourth reintegration facility was put in the administration’s proposed budget, but the location was not identified. In February, the Department revealed it was considering the Dighton property for the fourth facility.
Going forward, de Rocha said after the town hall, the department is going to ask communities if they want a reintegration facility — which brings 20 state jobs — so the communities can step forward.
De Rocha taped and relayed to Keck portions of the town hall so he could see what was taking place.
Keck is very open to ideas, Kimberly Lynch, chief counsel for Aging and Disability Services, said to the audience.
Ideas from the residents varied: home for foster children, for veterans, for battered women, for troubled youths, for pregnant teens, or for mental health purposes, for crisis stabilization housing, or for those recovering from addiction.
Dighton City Councilmember Jeff Schmalzried expressed concern about the timetable. The state officials hope the center is ready by early 2019. The community needs six to eight months to develop an alternative option to present, he said.
“They don’t need to shove this down our throat,” Schmalzried said.
City Councilmember Christine Birney-Carter also was concerned about the timetable. Repeatedly, the state officials said the selection of Dighton for the reintegrations facility was not a done deal.
Kansas House Majority Leader Don Hineman, R-Dighton, left Topeka at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday to be in Dighton for a 4:30 p.m. meeting between state officials and members of the city and county and school district governing boards, as well as the public. He stayed for the 6:30 p.m. town hall that wrapped up at 8 p.m. He planned to be back in Topeka for the House session opening at 11 a.m. Wednesday.
“I truly don’t think it’s a done deal,” Hineman said. He would have preferred Keck be present in Dighton — the secretary had obligations in Topeka, according to staff — but Hineman also said he understands the state’s quandary. It needs to find a site for a fourth center, and it has an empty building on its hands in Dighton.
For various reasons, including the limited number of available jobs or workers in Dighton, Hineman does not regard Dighton as a good fit for the reintegration facility.
Diamond View Estates is near ball diamonds, and Dixon said they would erect a privacy fence to block the view of the diamonds from the reintegration facility. The former assisted-living home also has sliding glass doors that would have to be replaced. Residents most likely would have to have jobs at larger cities in the region, but that occurs at the other reintegration facilities, too.
There is zero tolerance at reintegration facilities, and those who lie or threaten harm have been sent back to the Larned State Hospital location.
No sexual predator at a reintegration facility has ever been found to have committed a sex crime, according to Dixon.