Hillsboro Municipal Court Judge David McKenna announced his retirement then left the office Oct. 31 last year, and local members of the criminal justice community are eager for a replacement to be announced by the Ohio governor’s office.
Highland County Probation Department Director of Programming and Clinical Services Tonya Sturgill said the judicial vacancy is impacting her department. “Our agency is 80 percent grant-funded here at the office, and some of those goals are determined by how many people are put on probation obviously because the state isn’t going to give us money if we’re not supervising offenders in the community,” she said. “So, for the first time in my 12 years of being here, we didn’t meet that goal this quarter.”
Sturgill said local referrals to other organizations such as FRS and the Alternatives to Violence Center have also decreased as a result of the vacancy.
Three of the probation department’s grants, along with other goals, are tied directly to the number of people placed on probation. “When I was doing the quarterly reports, that’s when it really became apparent to me that this is making a huge difference,” said Sturgill.
Three candidates are being considered for the position, and they all met with the chief counsel of the governor’s office between late December and early January.
Sturgill, who also serves as the secretary of the Highland County Criminal Justice Advisory Board, said she spoke to two of the candidates. “They were told they would know something in two weeks, and no one has heard anything again,” said Sturgill.
An email from the advisory board inquiring about the vacancy was sent to Ohio Governor’s Office Chief Counsel Matthew Donahue March 10. “This vacancy is creating undue and unnecessary stress on the local agencies that work alongside the courts when it comes to meeting grant goals which secure funding sources for the services they provide,” the email stated.
“Referrals are at an all-time low and our valuable community resources, which we have worked hard to build and procure, are not being utilized,” it continued. “This in turn has had a direct impact on the health and safety of our community at a time when we are already stretched thin from two years of dealing with COVID and too many years of fighting the opiate epidemic.”
The email went on to further emphasize the urgency of filling the vacancy as soon as possible.
Reach John Hackley at 937-402-2571.