UPDATE: Washington Co. discusses merger and possible office move for Children Services

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MARIETTA, Ohio (WTAP) - UPDATE: 01/24/2019

Washington County Commissioners heard Thursday about the transition plan for the merger of the Department of Jobs and Family Services (JFS) and the Department of Children Services.

JFS Director Flite Freimann says the current structure of Children Services will remain the same until April 1, 2019.

Currently, the Children Services workers say they intend to unionize.

Freimann has voluntarily recognized the union's right to negotiate on the workers behalf and says the two sides are working on a collective bargaining agreement.

Additionally, JFS is studying the possibility of consolidating all JFS and Children Services offices into its current location on Filman Avenue, or to the Children Services building on Davis Avenue.

"So we could put more offices and more people in this building but, again, preliminarily at a higher cost. And the Gilman Avenue building would be more offices but less cost. More offices, less cost, but also less space if there's need for future growth."

Moving to the Children Services building would require the Board of Elections to move, as well as an evaluation of the building's HVAC system to see if it could accommodate more offices.

Freimann says he will be speaking to the Board of Elections soon to explore this option.


UPDATE: 01/17/2019

Director of Washington County Jobs and Family Services Flite Freimann met with the Washington County Commissioners Thursday to discuss Children's Services unpaid bills, which total roughly $507,000.

With a little over $820,000 currently in the agency's accounts, Freimann asked the commissioners for an advance of $425,000, an amount that was already a part of the 2019 budget.

"We need an advance. This is not a change in appropriation," he noted. "In the budget that was approved, $1.187 million dollar budget, these funds are there. This is simply an advance."

The commissioners approved the request.

Freimann will present his transition plan for the merger -- required by the redesignation resolution by January 24 -- at next Thursday's meeting.

UPDATE: 01/10/2019

On Thursday, the director of Washington County Jobs and Family Services provided an update on the merger with Children's Services.

Flite Freimann met with the Washington County Commissioners on Thursday to discuss the fiscal management of Children's Services going forward.

After speaking with the County Auditor's Office, Freimann says bills will be overseen by himself, children services executive director Jamie Vuksic and the county auditor.

The final approval, however, will come from the commissioners.

"Previously, the (children services) board approved the bills in their monthly meeting," Freimann said, "so a vendor might have to wait as long as 60 days to get paid depending on when they had provided the services. We're going to pay vendors weekly going forward so when an invoice comes in, a voucher will be generated to make that payment and then that will be turned into the auditor's office and then to the commissioners each week...

Freimann noted that current arrangement to reiumburse foster parents monthly, instead of weekly, will remain the same for now.

Under the merger's resolution, Freimann must report to the commissioners weekly on the progress of the merger. The two agencies must be fully integrated by April 1.


UPDATE 12/27/18

After two months of heated discussion, the Washington County commissioners voted Thursday morning to re-designate Jobs and Family Services as the county's public children services agency.

According to the Ohio Revised Code, the commissioners had to give the children services board 60 days notice of the proposed re-designation. And they did, sending the board a formal notice on October 25.

The children services board voted to oppose the merger, so the resolution required an unanimous vote in order to pass.

Some children services members made a final plea to reconsider, but the commissioners ultimately passed the resolution.

"This is why there's bad feelings," children services assistant director Alice Stewart said. "We feel laughed at, we feel disrespected. Just give us some time to work together with our possible new boss so we that we can form the relationships and make a positive transition to a merged agency."

"Our whole intent here is not that children services has done anything wrong," commission president Rick Walters said. "Our whole intent is we're hoping that by merging the two agencies, there's going to be some things that we can all learn that will benefit Washington County."

Under the resolution, the director of the JFS must develop a fiscal transition plan within 30 days and an implementation plan by January 24. Jobs and Family Services must fully integrate the public children services agency by April 1, 2019.

To see the entire resolution, click on the related links section (upper right on desktops; bottom of the page on mobile devices)

UPDATE 12/14/18

Following up on a story we aired last month, the Washington County Commissioners held their weekly meeting Thursday and addressed the re-designation of children services.

Tim Loughry, the chair of the children services board, was in attendance during the meeting and asked commission what the plans are for the future as children services is set to become part of Jobs and Family Services department.

He says the response he was given an answer of “we have no plan.”

Loughry says his goal at the moment is for the commission to just simply reconsider what they are doing and the way they are handling the issue.

UPDATE 11/9/18

Washington County Children's Services board meeting draws a crowd Thursday night.

The public turned out the the children's services building in Marietta to hear from the board as well as the county commissioners about the proposed merger with the county's jobs and family services department.

Members of the public, ranging from past and present caseworkers to foster parents, gave input and also listened to the commissioners.

They believe merging the two departments would allow them to leverage monies better to obtain more state and federal funding.

But the board says they heard nothing from the commissioners that convinced them this is the right move or would save the county money.

"I know you've asked for additional information," county commission president Rick Walters said. "I will do my best to get you that information I will call Adams (County). We're not here, we don't want to fight. We want to do what's best for the county and we just ask everyone to have an open mind and work with us."

"I'm still surprised with the decision to move froward with the redesignation of our agency," board chair Tim Loughry said, "because even tonight we weren't provided any information that would support this redesignation being beneficial to the children of Washington County or the citizens of Washington County."

Loughry made a public records request to the commissioners for pertinent information on this decision. Commissioner Walters says they are complying with that request and plan to have those documents to the board by Friday.

Meanwhile, the board hopes to have enough information to make a vote by the next scheduled board meeting on December 13.

UPDATE 11/5/18

The Washington County Children's Services Board is not happy with the proposed merger with the county's Job and Family Services department.

Board chairman Tim Loughry says they had no idea the county commissioners were considering the move.

The commissioners voted on October 25 to designate the administrative functions of children's services over to the county's jobs and family services.

Loughry says the board doesn't know what the commissioners have based their decision on.

"The information that we've sought indicates that it would actually cost the county money to merge," Loughry said, in a phone interview. "And that comes from our state fiscal auditor, who provided that information and everyone that we as a board have talked to have said that this is a bad idea, so I don't know why they would do it."

"I don't know what benefit it would have and I don't know how it could change our placement costs."

The children services board will discuss the merger more at its meeting Thursday, October 8 at 4:30 at its main office at 204 Davis Ave.

ORIGINAL STORY 10/25/18

The Washington County commissioners designated a new entity as the county's public children services agency.

At the weekly meeting, the commission voted to designate the administrative functions of children services over to the Department of Job and Family Services. Currently, a board of private citizens has carried out administrative duties.

But the commissioners say this switch will enhance services and increase efficiency and oversight of public funds.

"Our goal as the board of commissioners is to make sure first of all the children in Washington County stay in the families if at all possible," commissioner Ron Feathers said. "And we want those families to be able to take advantage of all the opportunities the state has available for them. So working directly with jobs and families services, and the director there, we know that they're going to receive better service."

The change takes affect December 27.