The Sampson Board of Commissioners will assume direct control over the county’s Board of Social Services and the Board of Health, after voting unanimously to abolish those advisory boards during consolidation talk, in the process retaining budgetary say for the agencies and hiring and firing power of directors.
Potential consolidation of the Department of Social Services and the Health Department, discussed informally since July 2017, was the subject of a public hearing earlier this week.
Under Option 1, approved by the board, the human services agencies will actually not be consolidated but existing advisory boards will be abolished and two new boards appointed in their place. The new DSS Advisory Board will consist of five members, while the Health Board will consist of 11 members. The Board of Commissioners will select those members and assume authority to hire and fire the directors of DSS and the Health Department, and both directors will be supervised by and report to the county manager.
The Board of Commissioners retains budgetary authority over both agencies under that option, however employees of the agencies will continue to be subject to the North Carolina State Personnel Act, rather than Sampson County’s Personnel Resolution.
The changes are expected to take effect in April.
“From a change standpoint, it is the least amount of change,” County manager Ed Causey said of Option 1, which was subsequently approved via a resolution by the board.
In 2012, the North Carolina General Assembly enacted legislation that provided counties with new options for how they can organize and govern some local human services agencies. All counties are allowed, but not required, to create consolidated human services agencies that are either governed by an appointed board or by the Board of Commissioners.
Board chairman Clark Wooten directed county staff in July to look into potential consolidation. A meeting with UNC School of Government representatives followed in October, attended by commissioners, members of the Social Services Board and Board of Health, as well as directors and key staff from those departments.
In November, the Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 to move forward with the public hearing process to consider three options for consolidation, with Commissioners Albert Kirby and Harry Parker dissenting.
Two other options would have actually resulted in the agencies’ consolidation, while Option 1 did not.
The second option included consolidating Sampson County DSS and the Health Department into one agency, with a single 25-member board to be appointed by the Board of Commissioners, while a third option was similar but with the Board of Commissioners serving as the policymaking, rulemaking and administrative board of a consolidated agency. In both cases, the county manager would appoint, under the direction of commissioners, one director to head the consolidated agencies.
During the public comment section, county retiree Barbara Faison and county employee Jacqueline Howard, the only two who signed up to speak, shared that, should any option be chosen, they favored Option 1 that would not include consolidation.
Faison spoke to the diverse professional backgrounds of the human services agency boards, saying that experience benefits the county.
“I think these advisory boards are very important for each one of these departments.” Faison attested. ”I would go with the ‘stay as you are’ option, but the other I would be in favor of is Option 1. The way I see it, working there for so many years, it should stay as it is.”
Howard agreed, sharing her concerns about consolidation.
“Sometimes when you use the term ‘stay as you are,’ we think we’re not being progressive or we’re not open-minded to change, but I want to look at that a little different,” said Howard. “When you look at DSS and the Health Department, I think they are headed by people who are really trying to look for ways to make it better.”
Howard said she felt the October meeting with the School of Government was constructive, with information presented in an unbiased way. Looking at the options on the table, she felt the first option was “very similar to the structure we have now.”
“I ask that when you consider making changes, you consider what is best for the whole entire county,” said Howard. “Sampson County is one of the best places and we are progressive. I ask that, whatever option you choose, that you bring in some of the primary stakeholders and have them give some actual input so they can feel comfortable about it. We have some great people in this county and they believe in providing the best services for the people of this county.”
Wooten lauded Faison and Howard for their “professionalism” in making their comments.
The board chairman also noted that the advisory boards could continue to be the boards as they currently sit now. County attorney Joel Starling said the county would only be required to have a Health Department under Option 1, even though a Social Services board was included as part of the resolution. Starling called any resolution approved a “jumping-off point” and that language could be changed within that resolution.
Causey said the move would be further defined in the weeks to come.
“If you’re not going to have a big savings, what really are we doing?” Kirby said of consolidation. “I’ll go along (with what the board wants to do), but I think over the last five or six years both the Health Department and Social Services have done very well.”
He called Health Department director Wanda Robinson and DSS director Sarah Bradshaw good leaders.
“I would tend to say, if we’re not saving a lot of money, then look at what we’re biting off,” Kirby stated.
Commissioner Sue Lee said the county had “about $6 million appropriated” to the two agencies out of the county’s budget.
“I feel the commissioners need to have a little more input,” Lee remarked. “That’s where I’m coming from. I don’t see anything negative. I think they’ve done a good job. Just with that amount of money … and I think there’s potential to make some money for the county.”
Parker, who has served on both advisory boards, said there is a “great necessity for both boards” and recommended the commissioners move forward with Option 1 should an option be selected.
“I personally don’t see where we can save that much money,” Parker said. “We’re always open for suggestions.”
“I have never in my business life consolidated anything that didn’t save money,” Commissioner Jerol Kivett added.
Kirby asked about directors and the possibility that some employees would be affected or lose seniority with such a move.
“With this or anything else, I’m not trying to take anything away from anybody,” Lee replied.
“I think everybody’s doing a good job, I think the boards are doing a good job, and I’m feeling a consensus and I’d like to get a motion to follow that consensus,” Wooten said.
Parker made a motion to move forward with Option 1. Lee seconded and it was unanimously approved.
Reach Managing Editor Chris Berendt at 910-249-4616. Follow the paper on twitter @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.