November 26, 2014

Elyria
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35°F
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Lorain County Children Services board’s seats often empty

ELYRIA — Employees at Lorain County Children Services expressed anger that the majority of the Children Services Board did not show up to Wednesday’s meeting designed to address concerns with a recent round of layoffs at the agency.

But the board has often failed to have enough members in attendance for a quorum, according to meeting minutes dating back to April 2010. Since then, the board has called off 10 of its monthly meetings after fewer than six board members showed up.

Board members, who are appointed by the Lorain County commissioners, are not compensated for their work, said Children Services spokeswoman Patti-Jo Burtnett. Each person is appointed for a four-year term, and the terms are staggered.

The board is designed to set policy for Children Services and hires and supervises the agency’s executive director, Gary Crow. According to the agency’s website, the board delegates any other hiring and day-to-day operations to Crow.

Eleven members sit on the board — Marcia Ballinger, Dan Billman, Mildred Gonzalez, William Harper, David Hintz, Barbara Kilgore, Joan LaGroterria, Dr. Delbert Mason, Rachael Salter, Toni Shanahan and Linda Webber.

Since April 2010, Shanahan has missed 15 meetings, Ballinger has missed 17 and Hintz has missed 24.

David Flores, who is no longer on the board, did not attend any meetings during that time.

Hintz and Shanahan said meeting times have been a problem.

“The time is difficult for me, because I have a 10-year-old,” Shanahan said. “The meetings are at 4, and I’m also still at work, so if I’m engaged in something, I can’t leave.”

Hintz, who works as a podiatrist, said scheduling conflicts with his patients have prevented him from attending many of the meetings, but he said he is dedicated to the board and has been trying to find a way to contribute.

“The time frame of the meeting is difficult to try to get everyone together,” he said. “We’ve talked about it, and we’ve always had difficulty getting a consensus on the best time.”

The board members said a lack of quorum has been addressed at meetings. From July to November 2011, no meetings were held because of a lack of quorum.

Billman said the board’s chair, Kilgore, has sent letters to the Lorain County commissioners about those who frequently miss meetings and asked the commissioners to replace them.

“It’s a situation where a lot of people are on vacation or out of town or sick,” he said. “That’s the kind of thing that happens. … From time to time, we have issues getting the board members here.”

Billman said the board didn’t purposely cancel Wednesday’s meeting to avoid dealing with employees angry about 14 layoffs at the agency.

The cuts are being made because of a budget shortfall as much as $900,000, and they were authorized last month by the board.

The cuts were deemed necessary because of increased costs, reduced state and federal funding, and an expected drop of some $684,000 in tax revenue generated by a 1.5-mill operating levy because of lowered property values.

Billman said board members examined other alternatives but believed a reduction of staff members was the most probable solution, rather than cutting services, many of which are mandated by the state. He said the board left the decision of what to cut to Crow.

He denied that the board avoided attending the meeting and dealing with the employees as Webber showed up five minutes after the meeting was called off. She would have been the sixth board member needed for quorum.

“The last thing we want to do is lay off people,” he said. “Most of our people are some of the best.”

Billman, who has been on the Children Services Board for 20 years, has missed six meetings since April 2010. He said he enjoys his time on the board, but some members have not been dedicated.

“You have to want to do it,” he said. “Sometimes some of the board members do not share that.”

Contact Chelsea Miller at 329-7123 or cmiller@chroniclet.com.