HUNTSVILLE — Scott County will be “on the forefront of domestic violence” in the State of Tennessee if it is able to successfully pull off its efforts to establish a family justice center, magistrate Scarlett Ellis told county commissioners Monday.
Ellis and project coordinator Christy Harness provided commissioners with an update on the fledgling project at Monday’s monthly work session, in the process providing the public with its most in-depth look thus far at what the family justice center hopes to accomplish.
Harness, who left Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) to head up the family justice center effort, told commissioners that the center will be a consolidation of services for victims of domestic violence, and will not seek to overlap services that are already provided by organizations such as the Children’s Center of the Cumberlands or the Scott County Women’s Shelter.
Harness said the county’s three-year grant for the project is “on track at this point,” with the next major milestone being the announcement of an official location for the justice center, which has a December deadline attached.
Speaking to Fourth District Commissioner Rick Russ, who chairs the legislative body’s Building & Grounds Committee, Harness said that she was open to any property that might be suitable for the justice center, but space could quickly become an issue.
“The more space we have, the more services we can put into one facility,” Harness said, adding that operations are temporarily being housed at Scott Appalachian Industries, which is providing office space.
“We’d love to have a variety of service providers in here as quickly as we can,” Harness said of the justice center.
Ellis said the new facility will need an office for its director, for the Scott County Sheriff’s Department’s domestic violence officer, for herself as magistrate, for a representative of the Children’s Center, for a representative of the women’s shelter, for a representative of the District Attorney General’s child support office, for a TV room for live communications with the courtroom at the Scott County Justice Center, and a room for children to be supervised.
The idea, Ellis said, is for services to be consolidated for victims. She described the current setup, where victims of domestic violence have to go to the office of the Circuit Court Clerk to obtain an application for an order of protection, then drive to her office to have it signed, then deliver it back to the clerk’s office. Afterwards, if they require a place to stay, they have to drive from Huntsville to Oneida to visit the women’s shelter and see if they’re eligible.
Under the new family justice center, Ellis said, domestic violence victims would find all the services they need “down the hall,” from obtaining an order of protection — teleconferencing with the judge and not having to appear in the courthouse alongside the perpetrator — to applying for child support and temporary shelter to counseling services.
Ellis said Scott County is the only county in the state with a population of less than 30,000 that has been granted funding for a domestic violence shelter.
“Our county would be on the forefront for domestic violence if we’re able to successfully (do this),” Ellis said. “We would be the model they would be looking at. It’s super exciting.”
Among the locations proposed for the facility's location were the upstairs courtroom at the old Scott County Courthouse. However, one stumbling block with the courthouse would be its lack of compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Russ said that problem exists with most county-owned buildings.
Another potential stumbling block is the project's budget, which does not include a lot of money to pay for a facility to be leased, Ellis said.