Commission, CAO to meet over fund decision

Published 10:22 am Friday, July 24, 2015

If the vote had been Thursday, at least one Lawrence County Commissioner would have supported the status quo as far as who handles federal funds for a local job training program.

“There is no reason to change what works already,” commissioner Bill Pratt said about retaining the Ironton-Lawrence County Community Action Organization as the administrator of the Work Investment Opportunity Act that partially funds the OneStop on Second Street in Ironton.

Every 10 to 15 years Congress re-appropriates funds for the WIOA program; county commissioners determine who administers the program. The CAO has had that designation since at least 1981.

At its July 16 meeting at the fairgrounds, commission president Les Boggs and commissioner Freddie Hayes Jr. voted to switch the administrator to the county department of job and family services. Pratt abstained at that time because he is on the CAO board, as is Boggs, and that there were only a few minutes in an executive session to discuss the proposed change.

On Thursday a packed commission chamber there to support the CAO listened to an exchange between Boggs and CAO assistant executive director Ralph Kline, who wanted the commissioners to rescind their decision.

Boggs said the motivation behind the move was a statement he said was from Gov. John Kasich wanting to combine the administration of WIOA with the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), colloquially called welfare. TANF is administered by the DJFS.

“I’m not sure if this is a guideline, a law or a suggestion,” Boggs said. “It is the client we need to put first.”

Boggs suggested officials from the CAO and commission meet to discuss the issue.

“This commission is willing to talk about any concerns,” he said. “We will not attack or be attacked personally. We are willing to be open-minded if it is a constructive meeting.”

Then Boggs offered next Tuesday as a meeting date. However Pratt wanted the matter settled immediately.

“Let’s talk about it today,” Pratt said.

But Boggs asked Ironton attorney Scott Evans, who was at the meeting, if he would research Kasich’s statement to determine if it were a mandate. Evans, who is a private attorney and not an official counsel for the county, said he would prefer to have a few days to research.

Boggs then said he was criticized by CAO staff for asking for financial reports on the expenditures with WIOA funds.

“We are ultimately responsible for the WIOA funds,” Boggs said. “All I did was ask for a report. I was chastised for asking for a report. I don’t appreciate that.”

Representing the CAO was Kline.

“We still have issues with the resolution passed last week,” Kline said. “It puts us in a situation. It appears we need to terminate contracts if we don’t have the authority. The sooner, the better (for resolving the situation). We have employees and programs we will need to accommodate. Is the authority still there?”

Among the OneStop partners are the Ohio University Southern and Collins Career Center.

While every seat in commission chambers was filled, only one CAO supporter spoke.

“My concern is not with the commission or the DJFS,” Emerson Moore of South Point, said. “My concern is people. This decision of the commission is going to displaced some people, disrupt some families. Please reverse that decision. To tell people at the last minute you may lose your job, that’s not cool.”

At that point Pratt voiced his support for retaining the CAO.

“I’m not going to abstain anymore,” Pratt said after the meeting.

The commissioners will meet at 10 a.m. Tuesday with Evans and the CAO officials at 10:30 a.m.