Children services: Levy supporters say change in oversight a surprise

More than 50 local residents, foster parents, county employees and children services employees listen to the comments of Washington County Commissioners at the Children Services Board meeting Thursday. (Photo by Janelle Patterson)

On May 8, voters passed a 0.55-mill levy to support foster care placement.

The measure passed by more than 1,000 votes, following a bi-partisan independent committee campaign.

But when it passed the Children Services Board and Washington County Children Services Agency were under the impression that those estimated $800,000 in additional dollars would be directed to foster care placement by the board. So were voters, since the election came four months before commissioners publicly broached the issue of taking over financial oversight of Children Services from the board.

Last week Washington County Democratic Chairwoman Willa O’Neill told the board she felt duped by the commissioners’ decision, saying she championed the levy to her contacts based on the expectation that they would be in charge of the finances.

Washington County Republican Chairman Mike Webber said Tuesday that the levy passed based on marketing, with a message of “safe homes for kids who have none.”

Washington County Juvenile Court Judge Timothy Williams speaks at the Washington County Children Services Board meeting Thurday, saying he will still remove children from homes and require foster placement regardless of whether or not a merger between Children Services and Washington County Department of Job and Family Services occurs. (Photo by Janelle Patterson)

“We weren’t selling it with the assumption that the Children Services Board would be in charge, just that the money would go to cover the cost of placement,” he said. “Whoever manages the money is irrelevant.”

Webber said when he talked with his party contacts he didn’t even mention the agency’s current fiscal oversight because he felt there was a public mistrust of past directors.

Webber praised the leadership of Jamie Vuksic, the current executive director for the last five years, and Alice Stewart, the assistant director of the agency, for providing clear numbers on the need for foster placement dollars for the campaign.

“They worked hard and stepped up,” he said. “But I knew the day after the election that there was no point in having a Children Service Board anymore.”

But voters at the polls Tuesday had mixed feelings about the current direction of the Washington County Board of Commissioners taking over fiscal oversight of those levy dollars.

Washington County Commissioner Ron Feathers speaks to the Children Services Board Thursday beside Commissioner David White, center, and Commissioner Rick Walters, right. (Photo by Janelle Patterson)

Sylvan Beierl, 80, of Marietta, said she was concerned that the levy funds would be handled by a different entity than she had assumed when she cast her ballot in May.

“I felt strongly in favor of the levy for the kids,” she said. “I think we have an obligation to take care of those in need. It seems to me that Children Services, they know the need best and know where (the money) ought to be spent. Frankly I don’t know what the commissioners are doing.”

Kathy Dawson, 47, of Marietta, said she also supported the levy.

“Even though I’m always a little skeptical of how any government (agency) will spend the money,” she explained. “But I was totally for helping foster care costs.”

She said she’s not a fan of how the planned takeover of the commissioners through the Washington County Department of Jobs and Family Services merger with Children Services has played out over the last few weeks though.

“I don’t believe the commissioners should control that money,” she said. “I don’t things have been done right to this point and that’s too much power in one place.”