County looks to Springfield for domestic violence service

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(Posted April 15, 2015)

By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor

With input from area law enforcement agencies, the Madison County commissioners plan to pursue an agreement in which Project Woman, based in Springfield in Clark County, would provide domestic violence services to Madison County.

With that move, they also plan to designate Project Woman as the recipient of funding generated by marriage license fees in Madison County, which amounts to roughly $8,000 per year. Previously, those funds went to A Friend’s House, the domestic violence shelter located in Madison County.

At a meeting with A Friend’s House representatives on April 6, Commissioner David Dhume said local law enforcement agencies recommended Project Woman.

Dhume then read a letter from Madison County Sheriff James Sabin, in which Sabin states, “For many years, the Sheriff’s Office has been disappointed in the service and cooperation associated with A Friend’s House. Consequently, deputies are reluctant in utilizing services and pursue alternate options for housing and advocacy issues. This is based on a history of less than cooperative encounters and managerial issues.”

The Sheriff’s Office responded to over 300 domestic or family related incidents in 2014. In the letter, Sabin states that he feels victims, their families and law enforcement would be better served by Project Woman, and adds, “Law enforcement in Madison County has jointly come to this same determination,” referring to his office, as well as the municipal police departments in the county.

Marilyn Chaffin, executive director of A Friend’s House, said she knows A Friend’s House has had issues in the past, but that the organization now has new staff members and new, active board members. She, too, is relatively new to the organization.

“Let us show you what we’ve done in the last year and our goals for the next five years,” she said.

As for a gap in services between law enforcement and A Friend’s House, Chaffin said that an advocate from the county prosecutor’s office usually handles domestic violence cases that come through the Sheriff’s Office. She also noted that A Friend’s House has seen an increase in its caseload from the London and West Jefferson police departments.

Instead of looking to an agency in another county for services, Chaffin said the commissioners should continue to work with A Friend’s House so that a Madison County agency can serve Madison County residents.

Susan Dunham, president of the A Friend’s House board, said, “We have advocates here. (Victims) need an advocate that knows this county, that knows the system.”

Dhume stated, “Our goal is not to discredit (A Friend’s House)… It’s not a personal issue. It’s an issue of service to the community.”

Commissioner Paul Gross said that everyone speaks very highly of Chaffin, but added, “We have to advocate for victims of domestic violence in Madison County.”

Dhume suggested that A Friend’s House collaborate with Project Woman.

Chaffin requested a meeting with representatives of the Madison County Sheriff’s Office and the local police departments, along with the county prosecutor’s office and the commissioners.

“I’d like the opportunity to be told directly their concerns and issues, face to face. I want the opportunity to fix it as Madison County. And we will be open to (working with) Project Woman,” Chaffin said.

She asked that A Friend’s House be consistently included in future discussions about domestic violence service issues in the county.

Madison County Prosecutor Stephen Pronai said he would set up the requested meeting. He also said he would look into a question Dunham had about whether or not Ohio Revised Code allows the commissioners to award marriage license fees to a domestic violence agency outside the county when an agency already exists in the county.

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