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BOLIVIA—Brunswick County commissioners have taken over the county’s health and social services boards.
In a 3-2 vote Monday night, with commissioners Charles Warren and Marty Cooke dissenting, commissioners dissolved the department of social services board and the board of health. Then they approved a resolution to assume control of the activities of a consolidated human services board. It’s effective immediately.
The vote came after a lengthy public hearing and a presentation explaining the action by county manager Marty Lawing.
“For several years one of the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners’ major legislative goals was to obtain legislation that would give all counties the flexibility needed to organize human services in a way as to promote efficiency and effectiveness in their administration,” Lawing said.
Brunswick County is among the first counties to exercise its authority to consolidate the boards like Mecklenburg and Wake counties.
The North Carolina General Assembly approved House Bill 438 giving all county board of commissioners the option to exercise its authority or jurisdiction over certain boards, commissions and agencies, including the board of health and the social services board.
“Under the current organizational structure, the health department and department of social services are governed by boards that have the responsibility of hiring departmental directors, and all of the departmental employees are subject to the state personnel act, which is inconsistent with the manner in which all other county departments are administered,” Lawing said.
The two departments were the only two in the county that operated outside of county administration policies. Employees of both agencies now become subject to the county’s personnel policies. The consolidated human services agency will be managed by a human services director and supervised by the county manager.
Public speaks up
“I speak from an employee’s standpoint,” Debbie Aldridge said. “This board has moved very quickly tonight. We’ve heard this has been done in Wake County and Mecklenburg counties…In all my years working and living in Brunswick County, I’ve never heard us want to be like those two locales…It’s all about control, otherwise we wouldn’t be here. What I hear is ‘I am taking control, so I can be in control and then we will see how it works out.’”
She encouraged the board to consider grandfathering in the state personnel act for the departments’ employees.
“Do the right thing, but it may not be the best thing,” she said.
“I am against your resolution,” said Bernest Hewett, DSS board member. “I thank you for listening. You are doing away with two boards to establish one board with the same amount of people…The people of this county need a board that is going to work and be dedicated at it for the needs of the county. I ask you to think very seriously. This needs some serious thought and some serious study to make this work.”
“I commend the county board and management for this proposal,” said Lloyd Tucker, a retired public administrator and taxpayer. “I think the proposal will improve the delivery of services to clients. Many of the clients to both are the same people…There will be savings from administrative overhead as a result of the merger and I encourage you to put that back into the delivery of service.”
Commissioners explain their stance
“I told someone today, I’d rather drink a quart of castor oil than to be here to deal with this kind of thing,” Cooke said. “I lobbied for the bill…The new commissioners will be seated in a few months and will bear the responsibility…Now we are going to make a radical change. We are going to get rid of a board that has been in existence for 62 years. The board of health is a well-worn machine and it ain’t broken. In one strike of the pen we are going to do away with that. We’ve got a situation where I’m not advocating…Let’s wait for the new board to come. They are the ones who are going to be responsible. Let’s wait three months and let that new board take it up.”
Cooke made a motion to table the resolution until the new board was seated.
“I don’t agree with putting this off,” commissioner Scott Phillips said.
“We are not rushing anything,” commissioner Phil Norris said. “I’ve been working on this personally for two years. We’ve been elected to be leaders, and that’s what I intend to do.”
The motion to table the matter was denied in a 2-3 vote with Cooke and Warren voting to delay action.
“First I’d like to say whatever action we take this has nothing to do with the way things are being run or not being run,” Norris added. “It is a possibility to consolidate government and hopefully improve services…I know there is a lot of fear. Anytime there is change, there is fear. I am in support of this. We can put it off a month or two, but that will not change my mind. My research has been extensive.”
“We haven’t done a lot of studying. We haven’t done any real studying on this process,” Warren said. “The bill just passed. I feel we have not really gave this enough study to see who it would hurt, to see who it would help. There is no way I can support it.”
“I am confident it is going to work because of the employees,” Phillips said. “It is the people you see out there every day that make this work. We are not changing that. If we can serve people through one door, I am all for that.”
“I concur with what Mr. Phillips said,” said Bill Sue, board chair. “We will definitely take advice from the advisory boards. We’ve not had the authority but the responsibility and the county has had to put out some big bucks. This is a better service for our taxpayers.”
Talking the helm
Assistant county manager Steve Stone was appointed human services director. He will continue in his role as assistant county manager as well as fill the human services director post. Current Brunswick County Health Department Director David Stanley was appointed health services director.
“I come before you as a taxpayer and commissioner-elect,” said Pat Sykes. “I disagree with the direction you are going with social services. Why rush? There will be a new board in December; let them decide. I am opposed to the option of assuming direct control since everything can be done by creating a consolidated board.”
Sykes went on to question whether or not Stone was qualified to assume the role of human services director.
The next step for commissioners is to appoint an advisory committee for health services. The committee is required to consist of 11 members including one physician, one dentist, one optometrist, one veterinarian, one registered nurse, one licensed pharmacist, one county commissioner, one professional engineer and three representatives from the general public. There is no requirement to appoint an advisory committee for social services.
Some of the powers and duties acquired by commissioners include making policy for the local public health agency, adopting local public health rules, adjudicating disputes regarding local rules and locally imposed public health administrative penalties, imposing local health fees and satisfying state accreditation requirements for the board of health.
“The anticipated benefits of creating a consolidated human services agency include achieving administrative efficiencies by combing administrative, finance and human resources staff, cross-training of finance and clerical and Medicaid billing, consolidate public education and marketing, opportunity to better coordinate service delivery and customer service, avoid duplication of services, lines of authority and accountability would be similar to all other county departments and all county employees would be subject to county personnel policies,” Lawing said.
Rachel Johnson is a staff writer at The Brunswick Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or email@example.com.