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Senior services board unclear about purpose
New appointees helping board progress
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The previously defunct Newton County Senior Services Board of Directors met for the first time in nearly a year Thursday morning, and the mixture of permanent and temporary members attempted to get the board back on track.

Newly appointed, temporary members Jackie Smith - who is also the county clerk - and Tommy Hailey - who is also the recreation commission director - joined holdovers Vivian Harris, Liz Loescher and Jesse Walton on the BOD.

Smith and Hailey were appointed by the Board of Commissioners last Sunday at a special called meeting because senior services needed a full board in order to qualify for an annual $60,000 grant from the United Fund.

The board has been the source of much confusion and discussion over the past year, following the resignation of Chairman Benny Phillips and directors Ann Brewer and Jane Atkinson in early 2009. The board has been inactive since its last meeting in March 2009.

The first order of business for the refilled board was to appoint officers. Loescher agreed to serve as secretary, but during the discussion to appoint a treasurer, she questioned why the board was taking these steps.

"This is kind of a charade. (These temporary members) are not going to be here. Why are we doing this?" Loescher asked.

Loescher was appointed by District 3 Commissioner Nancy Schulz in 2009 and had only attended the March 2009 meeting. Last year she expressed confusion about the purpose of the BOD; whether they were supposed to oversee senior services daily operations, raise funds or both.

Later in the meeting, the board approved an operating resolution, describing its duties. James Griffin, with the county attorney's office, said the resolution authorized the members to do the same things they've always done, including the ability to solicit funds from individuals and organizations.

Although senior services recently was re-registered with the state as a 501(c)(3) corporation, Loescher felt it wasn't truly operating as a 501(c)(3) because the BOD hadn't been operating.

When Griffin and Phillips said it had indeed been operating as a non-profit all through 2009, Loescher again questioned her purpose.

"I'm not trying to be a thorn in anyone's side, but this is a strange way to run a non-profit. We don't have any oversight or responsibility," said Loescher.

Phillips said the past year was an extreme example of how the board was operating because of the three resignations. However, he and Harris both agreed that the board had functioned well prior to 2009.

Hailey said from his understanding, the BOC had converted senior services from a county department to a county-supported 501(c)(3) in 2006 to help it raise money. Senior services previous donors, corporations like General Mills, Snapping Shoals and the United Fund, all began to require their grantees to be 501(c)(3)'s around that time.

Regardless of the direction and confusion, Hailey said the board members need to work as a team to help Executive Director Josephine Brown.

"I challenge you three to work together. It's a team concept," Hailey said. "We're not here to micromanage senior services."

The BOC has not decided how senior services will be run and it is exploring the formation of an umbrella 501(c)(3), which would allow corporations to donate to a number of county departments and related organizations. This would likely remove the BOD and give oversight of operations back to the BOC; which District 1 Commissioner Mort Ewing has said was his original understanding.

Phillips, who was reappointed as chairman last Sunday as well, said he would be stepping down again before the next meeting. Brown thanked him for all of his service over the last three-plus years.

- In other senior services news, the BOD discussed getting the organization on the 2011 SPLOST ballot. SPLOST money is typically only used for projects, not operating expenses, but Brown said her organization could definitely use more facilities.

She said the county needs a place to care for Alzheimer's patients, so a satellite senior services center focusing on adult day care would be a priority.

- Brown said she always wants to have a May work session with the BOC to explain senior services to the board and community. She said many in the community continue to believe that senior services is only a feeding program, and she would like to change that impression. Hailey said the recreation commission is compiling a 32-page brochure to promote recreation services and he offered two pages to senior services.

- This year senior services received stimulus money through the county and the Georgia Department of Community Affairs. However, Brown said much of the past year has been spent trying to understand and fulfill the complex reporting process required when receiving and spending stimulus money. Senior Services current budget is $627,000.

- The Northeast Georgia Regional Commission which provides some funding to senior services conducted a monitoring test of the organization in December. The test said senior services did a "wonderful job in the provision of services to the senior population of Newton County and should be commended for their efforts."