Firm presents consolidation ideas to county council

Firm presents consolidation ideas to county council
December 14
05:00 2017

Forsyth County commissioners heard a presentation on their options for consolidating the departments of Public Health and Social Services on Thursday, Dec. 7.

Currently both of these large departments have their own boards, which hire their department directors. Consolidation mainly involves who runs the departments, which would involve eliminating or combining the boards. The commissioners solicited a study to explore consolidation options that are now allowed by state law.

The study was conducted by Cansler Collaborative Resources, a firm owned by former N.C. Health Secretary Lanier Cansler. Cansler’s Rebecca Troutman and Sherry Bradsher presented the findings. Troutman actually lobbied for the 2012 law that allows for the consolidation of human services when she worked for the N.C. Association of County Commissioners. She said counties wanted greater flexibility over how they manage those services, which lawmakers agreed with.

“It’s a growing recognition that counties know what’s best for counties,” she said.

They surveyed 24 counties that have consolidated and did numerous interviews with county staff and other stakeholders. They said if commissioners wanted to consolidate, the best fit was “Option 2,” which involves a combined board of human services with a human services director, which the county manager would hire with the advice and consent of the board.

Human services staff would be under the same policies as other county employees but the State Human Resources Act would be optional for them.

Troutman said this would allow for better coordination of services, while still having a board with expertise in those services to call the shots, instead of handing the responsibility over to the county commissioners.

Currently, Social Services has a five-member board comprised of county commissioners and citizens, while the Public Health board has 12 members from different professions as required by state law, including various types of doctors.

The consolidated board would have positions similar the health board with a psychologist, pharmacist, engineer, dentist, optometrist, veterinarian, social worker and registered nurse. There’s also a requirement for two physicians that are licensed to practice in the state, one of which must be a psychiatrist.  The Social Services side would now require one position each for people with mental illness, developmental disabilities and who are recovering from substance abuse, along with family members of people in all three categories and two other consumers of human services.  Also required is a county commissioner and others from the general public. The board can have a maximum of 25 members.

Commissioners mainly listened during the lengthy presentation, but Commissioner Everette Witherspoon repeatedly voiced his concerns about the idea. He was weary of a law that was passed by a Republican-majority General Assembly. Troutman responded she met with opposition from some Republicans when she lobbied for the bill. The majority of “no” votes came from Democrats, though 12 of them did cross party lines to vote for it. Nine Republicans voted against it.

Troutman said the law originated with county commissioners across the state and not with the General Assembly, though Witherspoon noted commissioners tend to be Republicans, too. He said he was concerned that a Human Services director who commissioners took a disliking to could be easily fired.

“What we need is coordination, collaboration, not necessarily consolidation,” said Witherspoon.

Troutman and Bradsher said it was up to the commissioners to decide if consolidation was the best option for Forsyth County.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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