In August 2008 Liberty County officials failed to navigate the strong opposition former County Judge Lloyd “Tookie” Kirkham had gathered to what look like a solution to a long standing problem in Liberty County.
Prior Liberty County Judge Kirkham loved the camera and he loved the politics. While in office, the six foot six inch Tarkington native compared politics to his competing on the basketball court in Tarkington in the 1960’s. The only problem was that as good at Kirkham was at dominating local newspapers with his picture and winning re-election, he was equally bad at holding the cost of local government down and at solving problems. Local Republicans often joked that “Tookie is in most of our family portraits”, but no one joked about the unsolved problems.
County Judge, Kirkham was a no show in dealing with juveniles in his official capacity while county judge. In fact, while he talked a good game about dealing with juveniles, he was instrumental in closing down the only juvenile detention center in Liberty, County. His analogy about basketball never extended into the realm of problem solving. Perhaps being six foot six inches in the 1960’s in Tarkington Texas was such a huge advantage it left very little need for any other effort, the Liberty County juvenile problem is not as easily resolved. There were plenty of excuses Kirkham could have used had the media or taxpayers or parents challenged Kirkham squashing the facility.
But there are plenty of real life damages to youths that Judge Kirkham’s decision to give away his responsibility as the chief juvenile officer of the county has caused. In 2012 there has already been more than enough times a juvenile center in Liberty County was needed. Like the 14 juveniles in the infamous Cleveland gang rape of a juvenile and on other occasions where a juvenile facility in Liberty County could have made a difference, we have nothing. Kirkham made sure we would have no support system for our troubled youth. A troubled juvenile is often left in the classroom when a county claims it has no options. Troubled juveniles left in classrooms often cause problems for other young people that they would have otherwise never had.
So why bring that up now. Well one reason would be to ask public officials to do what Judge Kirkham failed to do. Public officials should explain the facts and circumstances surrounding juvenile detention facilities. There are fewer and fewer options and less and less use of juvenile detention by Liberty County. It is no secret we have the same kind of juvenile problems most counties have. And there is not a bunch of parents volunteering to have their little darling sit next to one of these troubled souls in English class. We need to know the taxpayer responsibility for a local facility, including the benefits from leasing spots to other counties etc.
The problem seemed to miraculously resolve itself after Kirkham left. In August of 2008 Rosalyn Ruffin Barboza proposed using a building in Tarkington for a 14-bed residential treatment facility. Her application for a license from the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS), formerly Children’s Protective Services was met by the same Lloyd “Tookie” Kirkham that had killed the juvenile facility in Liberty.
Barboza had envisioned a juvenile center filled with over a dozen boys ranging from ages 9-17 and three or four adult employees overseeing them. She thought the public would embrace her idea as a solution for both troubled teenagers and those who would benefit by classrooms free of such problems- she was wrong… In just one week in August of 2008, area residents led by Kirkham and others scrambled to get 1,000 signatures on a petition to keep the facility from being licensed and have that petition placed on the Liberty County Commissioners Court agenda. Kirkham again was “competing”, just like in his high school days. And just like in his tenure as Liberty County Judge, Kirkham was not solving problems. His legacy is one of blaming others and leaving the problem solving to someone else. Kirkham can claim his leadership in running Barboza out of Liberty County is because of his newly acquired conservative philosophy, but he spent more money as County judge than any other County judge in Liberty County history. He can claim he was protecting Tarkington from attracting riff raff from all over the state and all that comes with such a facility, but the facility would at times be filled with youth from our own county. The facility was to be a treatment facility to help teenagers.
Chuong Khuat. Khuat, a DFPS licensing agent said, “This is the first time I’ve seen this,” when asked by one of the people who turned out to protest the facility if it was common to see a community so completely opposed to a residential facility.
The opposition came not just from the proposed facility’s immediate neighbors but from the Liberty County political establishment at the time. The list includes a who’s who of former officials including County Judge Phil Fitzgerald, Pct. 2 Commissioner Lee Groce, and of course County Judge Lloyd “Tookie” Kirkham- who was already out of office in August 2008.
The media reported one of the things that offended those in attendance the most was the fact that the facility would have been a for-profit enterprise. Barboza informed the crowd that if her license for the facility was approved that state of Texas would pay her $668,000 annually to house the 14 boys there.
Further analysis was not offered. Just like when Kirkham shut down any chance of a juvenile detention center when he was in office, we were all left with an unsolved problem and the assumption that it was just plain too expensive to solve. An assumption that needs to be discussed in detail before someone is harmed so dramatically that the county’s decisions end up on the Houston news and another tragedy visits our community.
Kirkham is gone, what better time to brainstorm and solve problems.