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Residents need to know whos living next door

So many things went wrong with the process of setting up a home for the criminally insane in Cornelius, it's hard to follow the chain of unfortunate events or figure out who should be held accountable. But a few things are clear.

First, officials at Luke-Dorf, Inc., the nonprofit that runs the 'secure residential facility,' should have known that it's never a good idea to keep the local police chief and sheriff in the dark if you want to move predatory sex offenders into a neighborhood.

And, if Luke-Dorf officials couldn't figure that out, the state officials who oversee such group homes should have.

The lack of candid communication obviously frustrated Washington County Sheriff Rob Gordon who set off a minor panic in Cornelius on Dec. 28 when he directed deputies to deliver notices to residents living near their facility on 29th Avenue, informing them that three of their new neighbors were sex offenders.

Gordon's move, while understandable, put Cornelius Police Chief Paul Rubenstein and other city officials in a bind. Suddenly, it looked like they were asleep on the job. In truth, Rubenstein had been working diligently to figure out why the description of the facility submitted to city planners didn't match up with the heavy-duty security system that building inspectors noticed.

After assuring at least one neighbor that the facility wouldn't be home to rapists and murderers, Rubenstein learned -- way too late -- that he was wrong. The Connell House is home to serious criminals who, until recently, had been housed in the Oregon State Hospital due to mental illnesses that afflicted them when they committed their crimes.

Because Luke Dorf officials, possibly fearing legal challenges, are keeping mum on how they characterized their facility, it's tough to know whether this was an honest mistake or an attempt to sneak a controversial project past local regulators.

The Psychiatric Security Review Board, which oversees such residential facilities, has not been much help. Its executive director has defended the process of siting the facility in Cornelius, saying the relevant information was in the paperwork.

That's crazy.

While Luke-Dorf's correspondence with the county specified that it sought a 'secure residential treatment' center, that phrase was missing from its city application. Those documents refer to 'transitional housing' and indicate that the building, which had housed Alzheimer's patients, simply needed 'minimal' remodeling and three more parking spaces.

And, even if the 'secure facility' term had been put in the fine print, it wouldn't have been enough. If a state-sanctioned facility is going to house violent criminals who'd normally be in prison if not for their mental illness, then the first step - not the last -should be to give a heads up to local police officials.

The board should take a leading role in quickly sorting out why city officials and the sheriff were surprised, reporting its findings and outlining steps that will ensure it doesn't happen again.

Cornelius officials, meanwhile, are left to clean up a mess they didn't make. After weathering last month's media blitz and a barrage of calls from neighbors, they are now taking the appropriate step of determining whether the facility matches the use they approved.

The 'December Surprise' will make that process more difficult. As was evident in last Thursday's public hearing on Connell House, neighbors' emotions are running high and city officials are understandably concerned about Luke-Dorf's credibility.