Changes to Senior Services mulled

COVINGTON - County commissioners are mulling a change to the organizational structure of Newton County Senior Services.

At a work session held prior to their Tuesday night meeting, some commissioners expressed concerns that Senior Services is overseen by a board of directors rather than reporting directly to the Board of Commissioners.

Two commissioners said their appointees to that board of directors have resigned in recent months, citing concerns about how the organization is being run, and the chairman has also resigned but is remaining active until a reappointment is made.

District 1 Commissioner Mort Ewing said the board of directors was formed and a 501(c)(3) created in 2006 to help Senior Services secure more donations. But out of the $657,193 annual budget, only about $78,000 has come in through donations, he said.

The organization serves 566 people per year, meaning that about $1,167 is spent per person served annually, he said.

"If we're only serving 566 people and we're spending $657,000 per year to do that, I think we need to take a closer look at it," Ewing said.

Ewing's appointment to the board of directors, Ann Brewer, resigned earlier this year, along with Jane Atkinson, the appointment of District 5 Commissioner Tim Fleming. Brewer said Wednesday that she resigned because she is cutting back on her volunteer work. Chairman Benny Phillips has also tendered his resignation, but is remaining on the board until BOC Chairman Kathy Morgan selects a replacement.

Fleming said on Wednesday that the board has experienced internal problems and "communication problems."

"The directions that they give are not always taken into account," Fleming said.

Ewing said he has a fundamental problem with Senior Services staff, who are county employees, reporting to a volunteer board. He said it may be necessary to have them report directly to the Board of Commissioners.

"My goal is to try to find ways to improve the program because, as our population increases and our people become older, the needs of those people change and I'm not sure, based on my personal observations and the observations of the person who represents me (on the board), that the current program is meeting the needs of the current senior citizens," Ewing said.

The Senior Services organizational chart has Senior Services staff reporting to long-time Senior Services Director Josephine Brown, who reports to the board of directors.

"I'll take whatever blame I need to take because I was also a part of setting up that structure in 2006," Ewing said. "But I'm also man enough to say I made a mistake and let's look at it and correct it."

Both Ewing and Fleming said they are pleased with the performance of Brown, who declined comment.

"I'm not critical of anything the program has done or anything Ms. Brown has done," Ewing said.

Commissioners agreed to have the county attorney's office draw up a contractual agreement outlining the duties and responsibilities of the county and the Senior Services board of directors. That document will be brought back to the board for review.

Fleming said the Senior Services board is unique and does not function like other appointed boards because it is a 501(c)(3). He said even if the Board of Commissioners takes a more active role in the operations of Senior Services, the organization could maintain its nonprofit status.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.