Commissioners: DSS board not likely to change




ASHE COUNTY-Despite hours of public comment spread over two days last week – and the sudden resignation of the county’s longtime social services director – not much is likely to change for the board that oversees the Ashe County Department of Social Services.

That’s according to interviews with members of the Ashe County Board of Commissioners who said following last week’s discussions the board likely won’t vote to dissolve the agencies independent oversight board.

At least three commissioners – William Sands, Larry Rhodes and Jeff Rose – said they’d be unwilling to vote to dissolve the current DSS board at this time.

Ashe County Commissioner Brian Richardson said he was in favor of dissolving the agency’s oversight board – which would allow commissioners more oversight of the agency – while Ashe County Board of Commissioners Chairman Gary Roark said he would only vote to dissolve the board under certain conditions.

Commissioners in their own words

Commissioner Jeff Rose – “Going into it I didn’t have my mind made up one way or the other. I was going to listen to what everybody had to say, for and against and then decide what I was going to do. Right now I wouldn’t vote to change anything.”

Commissioner Larry Rhodes – “I think I said it before the meeting, but I’m really not sure why there needed to be a discussion about this. I think that (DSS) board has always had a hard job, but they’ve done a good job at it and I don’t think we should do away with the board.”

Commissioner William Sands – “The current setup has worked really well for us to this point. I really feel like we have one of the best DSS departments in North Carolina, and putting that under the commissioners – that might make things too political. If it’s not broke we shouldn’t be forcing some kind of fix on it.”

Commissioner Brian Richardson – “I think people really had the wrong idea about what we are considering. I heard a lot of talk about people possibly losing their jobs and we wanted to fire (DSS Director Donna Weaver). That’s certainly not the case. The only person this would change anything for is the director, and only then because we’d have a say in whoever eventually replaces (Weaver).”

BOC Chairman Gary Roark – “I made it clear to the paper that I was going to sit through the public hearing and make my decision after the hearing. But next thing I know there are rumors going around. I did make a statement to one of the DSS employees at Hardees one morning. The only way I’d vote to put social services under the county is for Donna to stay in her position, nobody be terminated from Social Services and the board stays in as they are with the benefits they’re being paid as an advisory board. Kind of like the planning board does for the county planner, just to get a closer working relationship between Donna and Sam. That way Sam would have to work with Donna and Donna would have to work with Sam.”

How’d we get here?

The current five member DSS board – two members are appointed by county commissioners, two are appointed by the state and the fifth is appointed by the first four members – has four basic responsibilities.

It can hire and fire the director of DSS, set up any fee structures if there are services developed with no state requirements, understand the resources and services available for citizens in Ashe County and to advocate for those programs and for any deficits of programs that are needed and help present the agency’s annual budget to the board of commissioners.

A 2012 law, H.B. 438, grants county commissioners the authority to abolish the county’s DSS board and assume it’s basic responsibilities. A few neighboring counties, including Watauga County in May 2013 and Wilkes County in July 2015, have already taken that step.

The Ashe County Board of Commissioners had attempted the takeover on one other occasion in early 2013, but ultimately voted not to approve the measure by a 4-1 vote.

Last week, the board held two comment hearings to gather public input as it considering abolishing the oversight board. Multiple people addressed their concerns about the proposal, and the county’s longtime Director of DSS Donna Weaver, criticized the conditions under which she’d worked for more than two year and said she was stepping down from her post on Dec. 1, 2015.

Commissioners ultimately decided to table any vote on the future of the DSS board.

Reach Adam Orr at 336-489-3058 or Twitter.com/AdamROrr.

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