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Commissioners ponder putting Children Services under JFS

Published: 4/10/13 @ 12:00


By Peter H. Milliken

milliken@vindy.com

YOUNGSTOWN

The Mahoning County commissioners are considering placing the functions of the Children Services Board under the administration of the Department of Job and Family Services, Carol Rimedio-Righetti, commissioners chairwoman, confirmed Tuesday.

The two county agencies serve many of the same clients, and such a move would produce administrative cost savings, she said, noting that JFS already oversees child support enforcement here.

“Now’s the time, I think, for us to start looking at ways that we could make our social service agencies better by combining the forces,” Righetti said. “A lot of people are retiring over there now, and I think now is a good time to try to look at that,” she said of the county’s child welfare agency.

“They all go together as one social service group,” she said of CSB and the child support enforcement and income maintenance functions of JFS.

“When you combine forces, you show that, maybe we can get more grant money. Maybe there’s more federal funding that could come through for us if we show that we’re using a collaborative effort,” she said.

If such a merger occurs, the child welfare agency likely would have an advisory board and not a governing board, but it likely would remain in its current quarters at 222 W. Federal St., Righetti said.

Children Services now has a 13-member governing board, appointed entirely by the county commissioners.

JFS and child support enforcement offices are at the county’s Oakhill Renaissance Place, 345 Oak Hill Ave.

The commissioners are not considering the third option, which is to have the county’s child welfare function administered by an outside agency, Righetti said.

“This is strictly a governance issue — it’s not a service issue,” said Dave Arnold, interim CSB director. Services to abused, neglected or dependent children and their families would not change under a Job and Family Services administration, he said.

“Much of what we do is mandated by the state of Ohio. The statutory pieces of what we do wouldn’t change at all,” Arnold said.

In most Ohio counties, the county child welfare function is part of the county Department of Job and Family Services, he noted.

“The JFS model has some financial flexibility. On the other hand, that model tends to have more difficulty passing child welfare levies because it’s much more nonspecific,” Arnold said.

The county commissioners will conduct a public meeting in their offices with county CSB and state JFS officials to discuss their child welfare administration options at 11 a.m. Monday, Righetti said.

Arnold said he views that meeting as a gathering “to discuss the logic of doing this [putting CSB under JFS administration], not to make final plans to do it.”

Robert E. Bush Jr., county JFS director, could not be reached for comment on the advantages and disadvantages of administratively linking children services with the income maintenance and child support enforcement functions of the county’s JFS department.

As the county commissioners consider the administrative future of the child welfare agency, they have asked CSB to halt its search for a new executive director to replace Denise Stewart, who retired Jan. 1, and that board had agreed to do so.

Stewart’s departure is being followed by several other resignations and retirements in top county child welfare leadership. David Macek, CSB’s personnel officer, resigned in February to take a private sector job.

At its Tuesday meeting, CSB accepted the retirements, effective April 30, of Daniel Thomas, its fiscal officer of 29 years; Atty. Thomas Infante, its legal representative of 19 years; and Bonnie Macinga, secretary to the executive director. Macinga has been with the agency for 33 years.

The Rev. Lewis Macklin, CSB chairman, attributed the retirements largely to changes now occurring in Ohio’s Public Employee Retirement System.

“They do concern me because you’re losing expertise,” Righetti said of the retirements.