Controversy Surrounds Juvenile Justice Center In El Reno

Saturday, January 10th 2015, 10:53 pm
By: News 9

A fight has pitted Canadian County leaders against each other. Officials said the issue concerns the future of a major juvenile justice facility that has helped young people turn their lives around for years.

A group, that includes the Canadian County Sheriff, two former county commissioners and members of Canadian County Citizens for Kids, filed a lawsuit against the Canadian County Commissioners over sales tax use, making it a showdown on how the Children's Justice Center should be paid for.

Officials said a decision to fully fund the Canadian County Children's Justice Center is at stake. Next month voters will decide, and the choices are complicated.

"The current ballot language that's coming up does not give voters the chance to say I want this and I don't want that, it's an all or nothing deal with the juvenile justice center being held hostage," said Mike Brewer of Canadian County Citizens for Kids.

A 'yes' vote for the proposition will allow the county to take the center's sales tax money, its reserve and 14 percent of all future funds.

But County Commissioner Dave Anderson said that's not all the way true. The center would have more than enough to operate, he added. Last month, Anderson told News 9 on the phone that when voters decided to pay to for justice center with the sales tax, they had no idea the tax would generate $6 million a year.

11/5/2014 Related Story: Possible Oversight Puts Future Of El Reno Juvenile Center In Jeopardy

So the Board of Commissioners got Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt involved, who then decided that the sales tax could only be used for facility upkeep and not for programs or salaries.

Employees like Abby Wright could be let go, and over a decade ago, she called the juvenile center home.

"Without them, without the people, I would probably be in prison,” Wright said.

To combat the AG's decision, the group for the Children's Justice Center said it is suing the County Commissioners. And on Thursday, a judge ruled that the center can temporarily use the sales tax.

"The victory we've achieved is temporary. There's still a fight to be fought," Brewer said.

Before the judge's ruling, the center said it was on the brink of being out of money and was at risk for shutting down.

A vote is scheduled for Feb. 10 for Canadian County to decide on how the juvenile center should be funded.