‘Taking baby steps’

Keith Strange Staff Reporter

August 22, 2013

DOBSON — The Surry County Board of Commissioners reconvened its Monday night meeting Tuesday afternoon, changing hats to serve as the newly-minted board of directors of the county’s Department of Social Services.

And those hats soon became heavy as they got their first taste of how things are done.

The meeting was the first with the board of commissioners serving as the board for the department after a July 15 meeting where commissioners voted to annul the existing five-member board and assume control of “all powers, responsibilities and duties performed by the former DSS board.”

While the meeting was a chance for the board to get its feet wet and learn a little bit about how the department works, many of the questions from the board revolved around ensuring the department’s clients are eligible for and deserve the benefits they receive.

As Interim Director Harry Maney touched on the number of county residents receiving subsidized child care, pointed questions were asked.

“I’ve been told by the public that there are people who receive these benefits who aren’t working,” said Commissioner Paul Johnson.

“It all comes back to eligibility,” added Commissioner Larry Phillips. “Without knowing the requirements and intricacies of the programs, it’s difficult to know what’s going on.”

Board Chair Eddie Harris said the board wants to take a little more control and ensure the benefits are going to those who need them.

“Every dollar that isn’t being used responsibly could be going toward education or other needed services,” he said.

But the meeting was more of an overview of the programs offered by the department, a move designed to familiarize the new board with the inner workings of the department.

Housekeeping issues like when and where the board will meet and who will serve as secretary dominated the meeting, but the new board made it clear that things like how services are funded are paramount on their minds.

“Does this board have any control as to the parameters and eligibility for these programs?” Harris asked.

Maney said they didn’t.

“If you continue receiving funding for running state and federal programs, those criteria are set elsewhere,” he said.

But the board made it clear that they wanted to learn as much as possible, although they acknowledged the ins and outs of each program are very complicated due to the plethora of associated regulations.

“The key word for me is baby steps,” Harris said. “It’s going to be a slow process learning about this department and how things are done.”

“You’re always dealing with three levels of government when dealing with social services,” Maney pointed out.

Phillips agreed the new board will have to learn a little bit at a time, but noted its goal is to ensure all funding the county receives is spent properly.

“This is a mess,” he said. “Someone complicated this process real well.

“I like the idea of baby steps, but the big thing for us centers around eligibility,” Phillips added. “That’s what I want to deal with. There is a public suspicion of fraud, and we want to ensure that these resources are being spent properly.”

Reach Keith Strange at or 719-1929.