Should commissioners control DSS and Health Department?

Should commissioners control DSS and Health Department?
September 29
07:15 2016



Who should be in charge of the Departments of Social Services and Public Health?

That’s a topic Forsyth County commissioners will be discussing in next year’s winter work session.

Currently both departments are governed by appointed boards of citizens, who hire those department’s directors and oversee their duties. In 2012, the N.C. General Assembly passed a law that allows consolidating how those departments are run. This includes the option of eliminating those boards and placing both departments under direct county control.

Staff presented commissioners with several options for consolidation during a Thursday, Sept.  22 briefing. One was keeping the departments as they are, but eliminating both boards and placing the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners as their governing body.   Another option was having a consolidated human services director over both departments who is appointed by the county manager with the advice and consent of a new consolidated board for both departments. A final option has the county manager hiring a consolidated human services director with the advice and consent of county commissioners, who would act as the board for human services.

County Manager Dudley Watts asked commissioners to include a study on consolidation options as part of staff directives in this year’s budget, which will let them discuss if the new options might be right for the county.

While some counties like Guilford and Mecklenburg have consolidated their human services, the vast majority of North Carolina counties have not and still have their two separate governing boards.

County Commissioner Walter Marshall, who is on the Department of Social Services board, said he didn’t support consolidation.

“We have to keep in mind that the original purpose of the board was to make sure that certain things remain non-political as possible,” he said.

Marshall also didn’t think part-time elected officials would have time to deal with all the extra concerns that both those boards currently deal with.

“We have boards to do the work that we don’t have time to do,” he said.

Commissioner Everette Witherspoon agreed the boards help keep politics out of the departments. He said they also let the public have input into how human services should be run.

“I like it the way it is, and I don’t think we should change it,” said Witherspoon.

Commissioner Gloria Whisenhunt, who is on the Board of Health, was more open to the idea. She said, unlike the county commissioners meetings, she’s never seen a reporter cover the health board’s meetings, so there’s little public awareness of what happens in them. She said that while she wasn’t sold on any of the options, she felt the commissioners should be the ones hiring the directors of those departments. She didn’t believe there was enough accountability for them under the boards.

“I think it’s something that we desperately need to discuss and find out if what we’re doing is the best thing,” she said.

The commissioners will be discussing the options further in their winter work session in February.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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