BOC grapples with senior service board

COVINGTON -- Two commissioners and the county commission chairman took the unusual step of appointing themselves to a nonprofit board of directors overseeing Newton County Senior Services on Tuesday night. But by Wednesday morning, they had discovered that move was in violation of the board's bylaws.

Chairman Kathy Morgan, District 1 Commissioner Mort Ewing and District 5 Commissioner Tim Fleming asked to be temporarily appointed to the Senior Services board so it would not lose a $60,000 grant from United Way.

The board has been plagued by resignations and has not met in almost a year. Both Ewing's and Fleming's appointees have resigned, along with the chairman, and one member is not attending meetings until the Board of Commissioners makes a decision regarding the organizational structure.

Fleming said the board is not operational and does not have a quorum. District 3 Commissioner Nancy Schulz said her appointee informed her that the board has not met since spring 2009. Schulz said her appointee refused to sign the grant from United Way because the 501(c)(3) board is no longer active.

Morgan said the appointment of herself, Ewing and Fleming would be a temporary fix in order to legally qualify for the grant, which must be signed by the first week in March, and until permanent appointments could be made.

"None of us want to serve on this board one minute longer than we have to because we don't feel this is the normal and proper course of business," she said.

Fleming said Tuesday night that he had consulted with County Attorney Tommy Craig, who had OK'd the appointments. But after examining the bylaws of the Senior Services board, it was found that commissioners cannot appoint themselves to the board, Morgan said Wednesday.

The commission will have a special called meeting during its retreat at Burge Plantation this weekend to reverse its decision and make new appointments, Morgan said.

District 2 Commissioner Earnest Simmons said his appointee and the appointee of District 4 Commissioner J.C. Henderson remain on the board and have not complained of any troubles. Simmons was the only opposing vote on the appointments, though Henderson questioned the legality.

Though the board has been incomplete for months, Morgan said no appointments have been made because the commission is considering an overhaul to the organizational structure of Senior Services.

"Commissioners have issues with the overall structure and speaking for myself, I couldn't ask someone to serve if the Board of Commissioners intends to make changes," Morgan said. She added that the operations of Senior Services have not been affected by the lack of a full board.

In August, some commissioners expressed concern that the agency is overseen by a board of directors rather than reporting directly to the county commission. Morgan said the intent when the 501(c)(3) was formed, in exchange for the county being the fiscal agent and employees of Senior Services being county employees, was that the agency report directly to the Board of Commissioners. However, when the bylaws were drafted, they had the staff reporting to Director Josephine Brown, who reports to the board of directors.

At the August meeting, 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 said he has a fundamental problem with Senior Services staff members, 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.

Fleming said Wednesday that the 501(c)(3) has "not been acting the way we thought it would," but declined to go into specifics. In August, he said the board had experienced internal problems and communication problems.

Fleming said it's a top priority for commissioners to get the situation resolved.

"In good times, we don't want to lose $60,000, and in bad times, we definitely don't want to lose what we've been given," he said.