Ashe DSS remains independent following vote by commissioners
Last modified: Feb. 21
The Ashe County Board of Commissioners ended recent speculation it would reorganize the Department of Social Services by a 1-4 vote Monday afternoon.
During the Feb. 18 meeting, Commissioner Judy Poe made a motion to move Ashe County DSS within the oversight of Ashe County Manager Pat Mitchell. That motion ultimately failed 1-4, with Poe the lone commissioner to support the measure.
According to Mitchell, HB 438, passed in 2012, gives county commissioners some flexibility in the way social services and public health departments are organized. The move could allow the dissolution of the independent board that currently oversees DSS operations, in favor of an appointed manager.
During the Feb. 18 afternoon work-session, commissioners nearly postponed the vote until their March 18 meeting, a move that would have allowed Mitchell an opportunity to attend a seminar hosted by the University of North Carolina’s School of Government in Onslow County on March 8.
“I think we should put (the DSS reorganization) off until you attend that seminar,” said Poe to Mitchell Monday afternoon. “She can attend that, and I’ll have answers to all the questions that I’m asking.”
Mitchell told commissioners she had attended a management conference during the second week of February, including a session on reorganizing social services.
“There were several other counties that are looking at this, one being Onslow County,” said Mitchell, who said the (SOG) will make a presentation on March 8, for boards considering DSS reorganization. “The county manager invited those that were in the room, that any county managers that wanted to attend that seminar were invited to the meeting.”
Mitchell said she planned to attend, and again asked commissioners if they wished to postpone the vote.
“I still have mixed feelings about that deal,” said Commissioner Gary Roark. “I’m afraid we need to stay out of it. I don’t think the county should jump in on (DSS Director Donna Weaver). Not saying that (Mitchell) wouldn’t be up to the job, but I don’t want to undercut Donna.”
Roark also said he did not feel county commissioners have the right to reorganize the agency.
“Just because someone else decides (to reorganize DSS) I don’t think that means we should,” said Roark. “I’m a little bit nervous about that. So far, I’m against the county taking over unless I can be persuaded otherwise. I’d have to see a lot of facts laid out on the table. I’m not selling (Mitchell) short, but we don’t need to be involved in that.”
School of Government meetings would not be enough to inform Mitchell of the true scope of decisions she would have to make to correctly run social services, according to Roark.
“I don’t think two meetings is enough to brief you, Pat, on what all is involved (in running DSS),” said Roark. “I think commissioners should think long and hard before jumping into this. We’ve got enough problems as it is without social services.”
Answering Roark’s concerns, “The only thing I’m suggesting is that the (current DSS Board of Directors) come under Pat,” said Poe, who said commissioners would be tasked with no more responsibility than they currently have.
“With respect, that’s not true,” said Commissioner Larry Rhodes to Poe, who sat for a number of years on the Ashe DSS Board of Directors. “Just about every meeting, a member of (Weaver’s) staff brought situations to us that we had to make a decision on. Should that person be removed from drawing income, or child care, or food stamps.”
Rhodes said the board approved each of those situations before an agency caseworker took action.
“So we would have that added responsibility,” said Rhodes. “That would change. Right now, (those) go to the board of directors. If that caseworker brought that to us, we’d have to listen and judge that.”
At that point, Poe asked Mitchell to leave the DSS vote on the open session agenda.
“Just leave the (DSS) vote on there and we can vote today if everybody’s mind is made up,” said Poe. “If that’s the case, there is no point in (Mitchell) even going to that seminar.”
Regardless of the vote’s outcome, Poe said she wanted further questions about DSS answered.
“I want those questions answered on where that money is going, and what is coming back into the county,” said Poe. “I’d gladly share my questions with the newspapers or anybody.”