New Ulm Town Hall Shows Community Frustration and Anger With 5 Oaks Achievement Center [VIDEO]

There was only one word to describe the feeling at Wednesday night’s town hall meeting at the New Ulm Lions Club Community Building…anger.  Anger directed specifically at the Five Oaks Achievement Center.  The town hall had representatives from the State of Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, Texas Senator Lois Kolkhorst along with her staff, the Austin County District Attorney’s office, The Austin County Judge’s Office, the Austin County Sheriff’s Department and representatives from the 5 Oaks Achievement Center all sitting at their respective tables.  Each table was given a chance to speak with the 5 Oaks representatives leading off. 

We’ve covered some of the issues with 5 Oaks in the past here on Austin County News Online (see HERE, HERE, and HERE) and Austin County Commissioners Court recently issued a “Resolution Opposing the Continued Operation of Five Oaks Achievement Center” at the February 12, 2018 Commissioners Court meeting (01:01:44 of the court video)

There have been concerns in the past about the children running away from the facility with episodes of youth causing damage and minor thefts to the local’s property with one local convenience store being robbed and vandalized as well.  But, on January 18th of this year, things got very serious when one runaway set fire to a local home, burning it to the ground.  That was the final straw and the catalyst for action on a problem that has been an ongoing ordeal for the New Ulm Community.

The 5 Oaks representatives spoke first (00:02:00 of the video) but, it didn’t take long for audience members to begin demanding answers as to the failure on the part of the facility to control its children.  The meeting was moved along by Judge Time Lapham as Sheriff Brandes  spoke next (00:15:24 of the video) telling the crowd that he sympathized with the plight of the children but, that the job he was elected for had to come first.  Austin County District Attorney Travis Koehn spoke next (00:17:39 of the video) expressing his concern that the county resources that 5 Oaks were taking was disproportionate to what they were paying in.  The repeated incidents from 5 Oaks takes up Austin County Sherriff Department resources as well as the district attorney’s office resources on an issue that seems to keep happening on a regular basis.  He also alluded to a second facility in Austin Country in the Wallis Area, Prairie Harbor, where similar issues are taking up county resources.  Koehn suggested that the rules for these types of facilities needed to be looked at and “tweaked” to address the recurring situations that these facilities seem to keep having.

Senator Lois Kolkhorst was next (00:19:54 of the video) and stated that her office had been looking at the situation.  She later stated that the facility had serious infractions; 51 deficiencies in the last 2 years with “22 of them being of the highest intense level”.  Representatives from the State of Texas Department of Family and Protective Services spoke next (00:29:30 of the video) and basically introduced themselves and said that the matter was being investigated. 

The meeting was then opened to the public for questions and comments (00:31:58 of the video).  Many residents voiced their frustration and dismay that the situation not only was happening but, that it continued to happen.  The common concern was that if the issue was not addressed that someone was going to get hurt badly or worse, killed.  The meeting was finally closed with final remarks from all the representatives (01:41:05 of the video)

It is unclear what the next step will be for New Ulm and the 5 Oaks Center but, Judge Tim Lapham felt that the presence of the DFPS representatives were the correct parties necessary for changes to happen.  And, Senator Kolkhorst also stated in the town hall that she had the word of the Commissioner of The DFPS Henry Whitman that the center will be depopulated, just at what point is the question.