County plans Human Services consolidation

County plans Human Services consolidation
March 22
05:00 2018

Forsyth County commissioners passed a resolution declaring their intent to consolidate the departments of Social Services and Public Health.

Commissioners voted 8-1 on the resolution, which authorizes staff to prepare a strategy for the merger. Consolidation is mainly about who runs the departments, which currently both have their own board that can hire and fire their directors. Consolidation will create a combined Human Services board with a Human Services director that’ll be hired by the county manager with the advice and consent of the board. The vote begins a process for possible consolidation, and commissioners are scheduled to a hold a final vote on it in June. If approved, consolidation would go into effect in July.

County Commissioner Vice Chairman Don Martin said he felt this would actually further remove both departments from politics, since the county manager will be hiring the Human Services director and not commissioner-appointed boards. He said consolidation will improve both departments.

“It is philosophically designed to improve services to those who are least fortunate so that the Health Department and the DSS group can be working together to try to solve various problems in this community,” said Martin.

Commissioner Everett Witherspoon, the sole “no” vote, disagreed with Martin, saying that since the county manager directly answers to the commissioners, it would give them greater influence over the departments.

“I think the firewall between the Board of County Commissioners and Department of Health director, Board of Public Health and the DSS director and the board of the Department of Social Services was put in place for a reason,” said Witherspoon. “DSS and Public Health serve the most vulnerable citizens and we don’t need politics coming into play.”

Commissioner and Social Services Board Chairman Fleming El-Amin said he wanted to see what the options were on consolidation, but won’t support anything that would diminish the services of either department. He said Social Services has issues that need to be addressed, especially with new state rules that will be holding counties financially culpable for mistakes made in Medicaid enrollment.

“There needs to be some improvement,” said El-Amin.

The Social Services board recently fired the department’s director for what it said was unacceptable conduct and inefficient job performance. The board is expected to hire a new director before July.

County Manager Dudley Watts said that he doesn’t anticipate any staff changes due to consolidation and the directors of both departments should stay in place. He said, going forward, those directors would be hired with the advice or consent of a Human Services board. He said current plans are for Assistant County Manager Ronda Tatum, who is currently interim head of Social Services,  to act as Human Services Director. He said even if consolidation isn’t approved, Tatum will be over both departments and the county will be looking for more synergy between them.

Watts said there will be meetings with the staff and boards of both departments held in the next couple months. In June, a required public comment hearing will be held on consolidation and there will also be a vote on formally approving consolidation.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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