BOC looks at Senior Services

COVINGTON -- County commissioners are continuing to consider the restructuring of Newton County Senior Services.

Commissioners approved a memorandum of agreement between the county and Senior Services on Tuesday night with the stipulation that Senior Services will work with the BOC over the next six months to evaluate its structure and determine whether changes are needed. The deadline to implement changes would be prior to approval of next year's budget.

"The agreement approved by the BOC ... has the Senior Services employees accountable to the chairman's office with their director operating like any other department head that reports to my office," Chairman Kathy Morgan said in an e-mail response to questions. "Newton County is the fiscal agent for Senior Services, (and) their employees are county employees entitled to county benefits. This has been the basis and understanding since the Senior Services Board was created; however the agreement was not documented. This agreement formalizes those terms."

The agreement requires the director and Senior Services Board to develop a program of work for each fiscal year, with details including a description of all programs, services and activities provided during the year. The program of work will be provided to the BOC each year during the budget process in order for Senior Services to be eligible for county funding. The board will decide each year whether to appropriate funding and how much to appropriate, Morgan said.

There is a need for an expanded or additional senior facility and a question as to how that will be funded, she said.

Senior Services Director Josephine Brown told the board she couldn't provide a work program without first getting an active board of directors in place.

Problems with the Senior Services Board have been an ongoing topic of discussion for the past 18 months. Several board members resigned and others have refused to attend meetings. Members are appointed by commissioners and the chairman. County Clerk Jackie Smith and Recreation Commission Director Tommy Hailey were appointed earlier this year to the board to help it stay afloat as the BOC looked at a possible restructuring.

But Brown said other members are still inactive.

"Jackie and Tommy are not a quorum. I've got to have some board members. If I'm going to have a board of directors, I think they should be active. We send correspondence out, and we get no response. I've got to have a board first, and then we can work together," she said.

Morgan said she has been attempting to find a chairman for the board since March. She said several people who were at first willing backed down when they learned the board is the fundraising arm of Senior Services. According to Brown, she and her staff currently handle fundraising by applying for grants and soliciting for private donations.

Hailey, who served on the board for three years before resigning and then being reappointed, called the current board "dysfunctional."

"It's not serving any purpose," he said.

He said there are personality conflicts among members, some of whom are more interested in arguing than accomplishing anything and some who try to micro-manage operations of the Senior Center.

Commissioner Tim Fleming said commissioners whose appointees are not attending meetings may want to consider making new appointments.

Schulz recommended commissioners take another look at the structure of the organization, noting that by charging a six-person board with fundraising, in this economy, "We're setting them up for failure to a certain extent."

One option would be something similar to the Council on Aging in Athens-Clarke County, of which the senior center there is a part but which also includes other programs, she said. The council is made up of a 21-member committee that handles fund-raising for programs and the senior center itself is funded by the county, she said.

Brown said that would be similar to Community Action Agency, an umbrella organization Senior Services initially operated under but is now no longer in existence. The agency provided additional services such as assistance with heating and air and a weatherization program, she said.

But Commissioner J.C. Henderson said he has doubts about the new direction Senior Services may be heading.

"I don't think if you have 100 people on the board you could raise the money needed to fund the senior services building and provide services to the community and make sure those services are provided properly," he said.

Henderson was the only opposing vote to approve the memorandum of agreement, which also included the provision that the Senior Center will for now operate under a work program presented with its current budget.

Brown said she's open to restructuring as long as services to seniors will not be adversely impacted.

"Anything done on behalf of Senior Services that will keep it at the level it already is and moving forward instead of backwards, I'm for it," she said.