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State officials plan to close YRTC program in Geneva, open new one in Hastings

State officials plan to move teenage girls from the Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Centers in Geneva and Kearney to the Hastings Regional Center campus, but local officials are hoping to have some questions answered before that happens.

The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services said the planned move is one of the next steps in an ongoing effort to redevelop the state’s YRTC system, according to a news release issued Thursday.

Hastings Mayor Corey Stutte said he learned of the changes during a conference call on Wednesday. At the end of that meeting, he said, he believed the discussion had been confidential and that city leaders would have a chance to evaluate the proposal before a final decision was made.

Stutte said he felt blindsided when he read that the change had been announced in the Omaha World-Herald Thursday morning.


This undated photo shows the interior of a building at the Hastings Regional Center campus.

Stutte said there are a lot of questions that haven’t been answered about the move, including the staffing needs that would come with the new programming there and how the state would work with local law enforcement to keep citizens safe.

“We want the regional center campus to be a success,” he said. “We want it to flourish. We just want to have some information so this stuff doesn’t get sprung on us. We want to make sure we are clear on what this looks like for our community.”

Although frustrated by the lack of communication by the state, Stutte hopes to work with DHHS to make the transition successful.


This undated photo shows the interior of a building at the Hastings Regional Center campus.

The DHHS news release stated CEO Dannette Smith and her team spoke to more than 80 stakeholders including legislators, city officials, judiciary and probation representatives, advocacy groups and media from Tuesday evening into Thursday to ensure complete transparency.

“This is the next step in our efforts to align programmatic and behavioral needs for youth,” Smith said in the release. “When we presented our business plan last year, I made it clear that the plan was an interim one — a necessary step to address the emerging and evolving needs of the people served by the system. We have continually prioritized the best interest of youth in our decision-making and have worked to balance that with our evaluation of program needs and stakeholder input, which often centered on the desire to separate the female and male youth. What we’re trying to achieve is a program that addresses staffing and safety concerns in an environment that is vibrant and fully supports these youth and their ability to thrive. These changes will help us get there.”

The teenage girls currently located on the Kearney and Geneva campuses are to move this fall to a new 24-bed facility on the modernized Hastings Regional Center campus.


This undated photo shows a bedroom at the Hastings Regional Center campus.

The YRTC in Kearney will return to providing rehabilitation and treatment exclusively for teenage boys. The Kearney center was recently rated 99.7% compliant in reaccreditation by the American Correctional Association.

Both male and female youth who may need more intensive interventions will continue to be served in a recently established YRTC facility in Lincoln as needed.

DHHS has retained the Missouri Youth Services Institute to help design and implement changes to the system’s organizational structure, behavioral approaches and community engagement strategies. Over the next year, MYSI will work with staff in Kearney and Hastings to enhance clinical therapy and education programs, update case planning processes, and recommend updates to make existing facilities better suited to serving youth.

“We are steadfast in our commitment in doing what’s in the best interest of these youth and look forward to fully engaging the communities of Hastings, Kearney and Geneva,” Smith said in the release. “This shift will help us take the next step in building a robust system to meet the multi-faceted needs of these young people.”


This undated photo shows the exterior of a building at the Hastings Regional Center campus that will be used to house youth as part of the redeveloped Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Center system.

The YRTC system is for 14- to 18-year-olds who have been referred to the system for breaking the law and have been through less restrictive treatment.

The YRTC campus in northwest Geneva has been part of the community there since 1891. It includes an accredited high school so the young women undergoing treatment there can continue their education.

At one time, the Geneva campus could house 82 youth. Up until fairly recent times, the Geneva program received frequent accolades.

Since 1997, the program has been operated by the Department of Health and Human Services. The campus itself, however, is owned by the state Department of Administrative Services. Aging infrastructure on the campus was known to pose challenges to operations there.

Teenage girls housed on the Geneva campus were evacuated to the Kearney center in August 2019 because of vandalism-related damage to one of the Geneva residential buildings, plus issues with staffing and programming there, including problems segregating more disruptive youths from the rest of the population.

A few girls were back on the Geneva campus by February, however, following rehabilitation of the damaged LaFlesche Cottage and the restructuring of the overall YRTC program at the state level amid numerous incidents and operational problems occurring in Kearney.

Under the restructuring announced in October 2019, which Smith characterizes as having been interim in nature, YRTC-Kearney serves as the hub of the system, housing both male and female youths as they go through intake, assessment and Phase programming.

The Phase model is a daily scoring system based on youth behavior and dictates movement within the program.

The restructuring included the new YRTC-Lincoln facility established at the Lancaster County Youth Services Center. The Lincoln facility is the most restrictive in the system and serves youths not responding to treatment in Kearney.

Finally, the Geneva center serves teenage girls nearing the end of their time in the system and preparing to transition back into the community. The Geneva center was to mimic a “home environment” and serve far fewer youths than it did in past times.

Geneva Mayor Eric Kamler said the community has a long tradition of welcoming youths from the YRTC program and offering them support and encouragement. Often these young women would participate in community service as part of their rehabilitation.

“This is something that has been in Geneva for over 100 years,” he said. “Our citizens have always welcomed this in Geneva.”

Kamler first learned of the closure of the YRTC in Geneva around noon on Wednesday. He said the 32 jobs associated with the current program in Geneva will be eliminated or transitioned to Hastings. The city already had lost around 40 jobs from the previous restructuring in October 2019.

“Overall, this was obviously a big blow to the community,” Kamler said. “We’re extremely disappointed to see this is the direction DHHS is going.”

But Kamler remains hopeful about another use for the newly renovated LaFlesche Cottage.

According to the DHHS news release, the agency no longer will use the facility in Geneva for YRTC programming, as maintaining robust clinical services has been a recruitment challenge. DHHS is working with staff members in transitioning to other programs or locations.

The Geneva campus has had great success with recruiting Medicaid and SNAP support staff, and DHHS plans to bolster those operations in order to provide further job opportunities in Geneva in anticipation of the Medicaid expansion rollout, Thursday’s news release stated.

If that doesn’t pan out, Kamler said, there have been conversations in the community about other ways citizens could band together to make use of the facility if it were to be abandoned.

State Sen. Steve Halloran of Hastings said he is troubled by the sudden change, especially considering that the Legislature had appropriated money for the renovations in Geneva with the understanding that it would be used as part of the YRTC system.

He first heard about the changes on Wednesday, but believes Smith should have discussed potential changes with stakeholders before they were finalized.

Like Stutte, Halloran said he’s not opposed to the change, but believes community leaders should have had input in the process.

“State agencies commonly use the term ‘partnering with local communities,’ ” he said. “That rings hollow when they don’t sit down with community leaders well in advance of an announcement like this.”

HPS evaluating whether to add bowling as winter sport

While it has been around at the school for a long time as a club activity, bowling may be the newest official sport at Hastings High School.

When they meet on Aug. 10, members of the Hastings Board of Education will decide whether to add bowling to the list of Hastings High School activities.

HHS Activities Director Tracy Douglas presented the proposal at the school board’s July 9 work session.

Hastings High has had a longstanding bowling club.

“It’s had a lot of success,” Douglas said. “The club’s been very active, with a lot of members.”

Changes over the years to the timing of the club season have had a negative effect on participation, however, she said.

Members of the Nebraska School Activities Association Representative Assembly voted 31-20 at their May 21 meeting to add bowling as an NSAA-sanctioned winter sport.

While Hastings High School has a history of supporting club bowling, adding it to the list of school sports right now is complicated while the district is dealing with the effects of the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, pandemic.

“If this was a normal year I am confident I would be sitting in front of you recommending we add this,” Superintendent Jeff Schneider told school board members during the work session. “This group has proven there is a need. I think it’s another great activity for our kids.”

He said Kandance Garwood, HPS director of student services, wants to also see the addition of unified bowling, which would involve students with disabilities.

“Those are all great things,” Schneider said. “I just don’t know how this works.”

Projected expenses for varsity and junior varsity boys and girls teams include uniforms, equipment, teaching and training aids, transportation, lineage fees and coaching.

Schneider estimated the total cost would be $20,000 to $25,000 per year.

“Again, it depends on the number of competitions that exist and where they are at,” he said. “You’re looking at $500 to $900 every time a group of students gets on the bus. This is going to require a bus because you’re going to have a boys team and a girls team.”

Douglas said Pastime Lanes has told the district it would be competitive with its costs.

She checked with other schools within the HPS array.

“It was very mixed,” she said. “Some schools were like ‘Yes, we’re going to add it right away.’ What we’re finding is a lot of other schools, with the current times, are very concerned about adding another program with not knowing what everything was going to look like, especially from an activities point of view.”

HU's information hub retires after more than 41 years

The woman known as the information hub, as well as unofficial historian, at Hastings Utilities is retiring Friday after more than 41 years on the job.

Carol Crecelius has served as administrative assistant for the utility manager for most of her tenure at Hastings Utilities.

“Carol has been very critical in keeping our communications open and clear with our advisory board, any of the council, all of our other city departments. She’s been the hub of that communication for Hastings Utilities and for me in particular and our administrative group interacting with the rest of the city,” current Utilities Manager Kevin Johnson said. “She’s been doing that job for a long time, and she knows a lot of people, if not most of the people, we need to interact with. She’s been a real asset to have around — to be able to refer back to, not only for legacy issues but who’s who within the city.”

Johnson relied on Crecelius almost exclusively for information when he started with Hastings Utilities in October 2017.

“Just to keep me out of trouble, mostly,” he said. “Mostly just to give me an idea of who I needed to talk to when I needed to talk on certain items, especially as they related to the public side of dealing with the city and other city departments when I first got here.”

Crecelius, 64, started working at Hastings Utilities on Feb. 15, 1979 — five days after the natural gas explosion in downtown Hastings. Plans were also in full swing then for construction of Whelan Energy Center No. 1, which came online in 1981; and the Pollution Control Facility, which was completed in 1982.

“We were building unit 1, so it was very, very busy,” she said. “There was a lot of paperwork.”

She was hired by Marv Schultes, then director of engineering.

She initially split her time working for the director of engineering and director of finance.

Hastings Utilities needed more help, including in the administrative department.

“She did a great job for us, through all the construction of the energy center — unit 1 and unit 2 and also the wastewater treatment plant,” Schultes said.

Whelan Energy Center No. 2 came online in 2011.

Following other staffing departures, Crecelius soon became administrative assistant to Utilities Manager Lee Blocker.

When Schultes succeeded Blocker as manager in 1988, he and Crecelius once again worked closely together.

“One thing about Carol is she was always willing to try something new,” Schultes said. “She always said, ‘How do we figure out some new way of doing it?’ ”

He said if someone at Hastings Utilities needed something, Crecelius could find it.

“I just make sure everybody has the information they need,” she said. “I get that information for them. Just whatever needs to be done, I’ve become the jack of all trades. I’ve always enjoyed that. I like working with everybody here.”

Crecelius appreciates the managers she worked for, a list that also included former Assistant Manager Al Meyer, who served as interim director between Schultes’ retirement in July 2016 and when Johnson was hired.

“We’ve had some very good managers,” she said.

Crecelius retires as one of the longest tenured employees at Hastings Utilities.

“That group that started 35, 40 years ago, it’s almost like we’re family,” she said. “Now, so many of them are starting to retire.”

In retirement, Crecelius plans to spend time camping, gardening, fishing and traveling.

She wants to start a girls club where they play cards, talk gardening and go on Nebraska Passport excursions.

“There’s a lot of areas around Nebraska I haven’t seen,” she said. “I thought that would be fun to do with a group of women.”

Crecelius is from Beaver City originally. She met her husband, Dave, when they were living in Lincoln. The couple has two sons, Jeff and Chris, and two grandsons.

Hastings Utilities is having a retirement reception for Crecelius on Friday afternoon that is closed to the public.

No longer will she be the record keeper at Hastings Utilities.

“I’ll miss it, but I’m ready to retire, ready to move onto other things,” she said.

3 more states share license data for citizenship efforts

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Iowa, South Carolina and South Dakota have now joined Nebraska in agreeing to share state driver’s license information with the U.S. Census Bureau to help the Trump administration to determine the citizenship status of every U.S. resident.

Until recently, Nebraska had been the sole state to sign an agreement with the Census Bureau to share the information. President Donald Trump ordered the Census Bureau last year to gather citizenship data from the administrative records of federal and state agencies after the U.S. Supreme Court blocked his administration’s effort to place a citizenship question on the 2020 census questionnaire.

The overwhelming majority of states have refused to share information about driver’s licenses and ID cards. The governors of the four cooperating states are Republicans. Their cooperation was first reported by NPR.

Opponents of gathering the citizenship data worry it will be used by states and local governments to redraw legislative boundaries using only U.S. citizens instead of the entire population. Doing so would be advantageous to Republicans and non-Hispanic whites, according to opponents.

Citizenship information in motor vehicle agencies is typically unreliable given that there is no reason for lawful residents to notify motor vehicle agencies when they become citizens, said Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

MALDEF is one of several civil rights groups challenging Trump’s order in federal court in Maryland.

“Their task is to create a nationwide data base, so having three relatively small states provide them records doesn’t get them very far as to what they want to do. They need a nationwide database,” Saenz said. “I don’t know what it shows other than if I were in one of those states, I would be angry that the state is offering up my information without my permission.”

The Department of Commerce, which oversees the Census Bureau, says it has enough administrative records to determine the citizenship of almost 90% of the U.S. population, and records collected for the order would only fill in the remaining gaps

The agreement with South Carolina was signed earlier this month, and the Census Bureau is paying South Carolina $27,000 for the data. South Carolina law allows the sharing of information if it’s for carrying out “legitimate government agency functions,” Julie Roy, a spokeswoman for the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles, said in an email.

South Dakota signed an agreement with the Census Bureau in April requiring it to send monthly driver’s license information including names, addresses, birth dates and citizenship status. Since it requires proof of U.S. citizenship or lawful immigration status, South Dakota does not allow people who are in the country illegally to get a driver’s license or ID card.

The data is to be used “solely for statistical purposes and not for program or administrative enforcement,” according to the South Dakota agreement. Similar language is used in the agreements with Iowa and South Carolina. The agreements also limit the Census Bureau from sharing the data with other agencies.

The South Dakota Department of Safety released a statement saying its licensing program “is authorized to share information for use by any government agency in carrying out its functions.”

Iowa began sending its data to the Census Bureau in March. In Iowa, only citizens or residents in the country legally can get a driver’s license or ID card so citizenship status isn’t included in its information.

House Democrats have filed legislation that would nullify Trump’s order on gathering the citizenship data.

House Democrats investigating the origins of the failed citizenship question for the 2020 census said a Trump transition adviser was in contact with an influential Republican redistricting guru, Thomas Hofeller, when the citizenship question was being drafted in 2017. Hofeller advocated using voting-age citizens, instead of the total population, as the population base for redistricting. In documents that surfaced after his death in 2018, he acknowledged his intent was to help Republicans.

The 2020 census — a once-a-decade head count — helps determine how $1.5 trillion in federal spending is allocated and how many congressional seats each state gets.

Democrats say the attempt to gather the citizenship information is part of an ongoing effort by the Trump administration to politicize the Census Bureau. House Democrats have asked Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to withdraw the recent appointments of Nathaniel Cogley and Adam Korzeniewski to top agency positions, and the department’s inspector general is looking into how they were hired.

Many residents in immigrant communities were already fearful about filling out the census, and the agreements with the states show Trump is attempting an “end run” around the Supreme Court ruling, said Taneeza Islam, an immigration lawyer who runs an advocacy organization called South Dakota Voices for Peace.

“Many people do not trust filling out government forms and this just adds another layer to that mistrust,” Islam said.