DSS Director, Commissioners, respond to Ashe Mountain Times article
Last modified: Feb. 6
Following stories in local media outlets, including the Ashe Mountain Times, concerning the future of the Ashe County Department of Social Services, the agency’s director addressed county commissioners Monday afternoon.
During the Feb. 4, meeting, Ashe County Department of Social Service Director Donna Weaver voiced her concerns to the Ashe County Board of Commissioners about issues she had with statements made in a Jan. 24 article in the Ashe Mountain Times.
“I don’t run an (inferior) program, and I’m not going to,” said Weaver. “I take my job quite seriously. Quite frankly, I was really insulted by the comments in the newspaper, because of the insinuation that was proposed to the public.”
Weaver said her comments were prompted by statements made by commissioners during a Jan. 7 work-session and follow up interviews, including Commissioner Judy Poe who said, “We’ve always heard that social services was off-limits, that county commissioners can’t do anything with it. Since it’s one of our biggest expenses, we need to know what programs they’ve got, and where they’re spending the funds. To me, I’d like to see (DSS) put under (Ashe County Manager Pat) Mitchell’s (oversight), instead of an independent board.”
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 — in this case Mitchell.
“DSS has a more than $50 million budget, and as commissioners, we know almost nothing about it,” said Poe on Jan. 7.
Weaver disputed that assertion Monday, however, and said she spent more than two hours with all five commissioners on April 4, 2011, “explaining (her) budget top to bottom.”
“I shared with you every single program,” said Weaver. “I told you which ones were mandated, which ones were not, and quite frankly it's very simple. They're all mandated except one program, and that is Adult Daycare.”
Weaver said commissioners spend $4,669 per year providing the service, and said continued funding of the service would be the board’s prerogative.
In addition to time spent with commissioners, Weaver said she also worked to ensure Mitchell’s understanding of the DSS budget.
“With my entire budget laid out in front of her ... I went through it line by line, program by program, and I shared with her exactly what was in that budget and why it was in there,” said Weaver.
With the exception of George Yates, Weaver said no other commissioner had requested training from her, and also spoke about her willingness to share information with commissioners including information on statutes, regulations, and funding that affects DSS.
“I’ve always been at your disposal,” said Weaver. “You have multiple reports that come to you that share with you what is in our budget, why its spent, and every year on Feb. 15 the budget package comes in. (Each commissioner) gets a copy, and the Chairman get a copy of the budget narrative.”
Throughout the budget process, Weaver said commissioners have access to budget reports and spreadsheets that are ultimately translated into county budget line items, and also provides monthly reports on the department’s activities.
“I have a meticulous system for tracking all expenditures,” said Weaver, who also told commissioners their statements quoted by local media may have insinuated that her department was run inefficiently, and ineffectively.
“I’m assuming you mean financially,” said Weaver, who told commissioners her department had returned more than $5.4 million to commissioners at the end of each year, since 2006-2007. “I don’t call that inefficient or ineffective fiscal management myself. And, quite frankly, that was one reason you were able to pay off the mental health debt that you owed.”
Weaver was referencing the collapse of New River Behavioral Healthcare in October of 2011.
Weaver said she felt her budget philosophy was more transparent than other methods, and asked commissioners how they were able to make informed comparisons about her department's activities, “If you don’t know what programs we have, and which are mandated? How can you make an educated informed comparison if you don’t know what this department is doing and how I run it?”
Weaver told commissioners she takes her job, and the liability that comes with the position, seriously.
“That (level of liability) is extremely humbling,” said Weaver. “I’m an advocate for our county and I consider myself as such.”
Poe told Weaver she had never said Weaver or her department was mishandled, inefficient, or fraudulent.
“My concern is what the commissioners know and what the commissioners do,” said Poe, who turned to Mitchell and asked where Weaver’s reports are sent. “I don’t remember getting all these reports. Where do they go? (Weaver is) talking about reports that I personally don’t get.”
Poe told Weaver, “that this has gotten run out of context to what we were talking about,” and said “I have never accused you of fraud, and I have never accused you of being inefficient. I think if you’ll read both articles, it did not say that in there about me, and I don’t appreciate coming in and being dressed down for something that we did not say.”
"If you'll read the quote in the paper, it said, ‘We don't even know what programs are offered," said Weaver.
"Right, the commissioners do not know," said Poe, who reiterated she had not received all of the reports Weaver said are made available to commissioners.
"Great," said Weaver. "They get sent to you all the time."
"You keep saying, 'You," said Poe. "We don't get them."
"Well, you probably need to talk to Pat and your financial folks about that," said Weaver.
Poe said cuts are coming to state and federal funding, budgets, and programs and said, “As commissioners we need to know what those programs are and what’s going to be cut — and what the county might want to fund, what the county might not want to fund and what we need to do with that money.”
In the future, Weaver said she hoped commissioners would ask her questions instead of making statements about her department in local media.
“I would hope that you would come to me,” said Weaver. “I would hope that you would ask me, instead of quoting something in the newspaper and let me read it instead of letting me know that it is coming.”
"I will tell you up front here in front of the newspapers and everybody," said Poe. "I'm asking (County Clerk) Ann Clark to put on the (Feb. 18) agenda a discussion and a vote on whether we put DSS under the county manager, as of July 1, or not,” said Poe. “We need to get ahead of this, because in 2014, when those five hundred thousand in North Carolina come onto Medicaid, it’s going to overwhelm all of our social services departments.”
Ashe County Commission Chairman Larry Rhodes, who sat on the Ashe DSS Board of Directors for nearly a decade, said he has never recalled seeing a budget with the kind of detail like those published by Weaver, and said, “I never questioned - are there loopholes and things that happen in Donna’s department? Sure there are — there is in any department, but they are a minimum. Any changes we make, I don’t see us correcting those loopholes.”
Ashe County Commissioner Gary Roark said he would, “have to think long and hard before (voting) to put a problem of this magnitude on Dr. Mitchell and the county,” while both Commissioners Gerald Price and Poe offered to attend Weaver’s training sessions in the future.