In 2012, the North Carolina legislature created new options for the state’s 100 counties in the governance of local social services and public health departments. Counties are required to continue providing public health and social services. But now county commissioners can take one of three reorganization approaches: They can leave things as they are but take control of both groups and become the governing board of both; they can consolidate the health and social services departments and create a human services board of directors; or they can merge the agencies into one and take control themselves.
UNC-Chapel Hill Associate Professor of Public Law and Government Jill Moore detailed the options to county commissioners and the existing boards of directors of both groups.
“I’m here to explain but not advocate for either option,” Moore said. She said that as of Feb. 1, 30 counties had already agreed on the options available to them. All but three of them chose to consolidate the operations into one human services agency to be governed by a single board of directors. “You are doing the right thing by studying this,” Moore told commissioners.
The law does not require any mix of agencies nor does it specify the duties and responsibilities of governing boards. There’s a lot of diversity in structure and governance. Moore told the board of commissioners they could also include youth services and veterans services among others in a consolidated agency. “Consolidation may possibly help us to achieve efficiency,” said county commissioner Jimmy Keefe.
The board adopted improved government efficiency as an objective in its planning retreat in January. “Don’t assume creating a CHSA will save money,” Moore cautioned. She told the board of commissioners that counties that have made changes under the new law have not realized any significant tax savings.
Human services board members apparently had not made any preconceived notions about likely pending changes. “I’m still in the information gathering phase,” said Department of Social Services Chair Betsy Bradshaw.
County Manager Amy Cannon echoed Bradshaw’s sentiment. “It’s too early; we must review all of it,” she said.
The state statute says that if the board of commissioners decides to take over human services operations, they would assume all legal powers, duties and responsibilities of the boards that are abolished. They would also be required to appoint citizen advisory committees.
Moore said county public health and social services department employees must be kept fully informed as consolidation plans are developed. “Advance discussion about implications of changes … and legal questions about transitioning career status employees are lessons learned in counties which have adopted consolidation,” she wrote in her power point presentation. No action timeline has been established by commissioners or management.
Photo: UNC-Chapel Hill Associate Professor of Public Law and Government Jill Moore