Sussex BOS adopts local DSS board changes

~ Move made to adjust to growing trend among high performing offices throughout VA ~

By Terry Harris

On Agenda Action Item #6.04 of the regular April 15 meeting of the Sussex County Board of Supervisors simply read, “After extensive discussions with Virginia Department of Social Services (Eastern Region) representatives, staff recommends that the Board of Supervisors consider changing the DSS board structure from an administrative board to an advisory board.”

Following explanations of the differences between an Administrative Board and an Advisory Board by DSS Eastern Regional Director Peter Gezzi, discussion by the board, and further closed session discussion concerning specific DSS board actions, the Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 with one abstention to switch from an administrative board to an advisory board per the request by the state. 

Afterward, County Administrator Richard Douglas explained the action in greater detail.

“The state had contacted me to share some concerns about a series of decisions by our administrative board,” Douglas said. “After discussion of options to address the issues with state officials, I recommended that the board consider changing to an advisory structure.  That makes the DSS department consistent with other county administrative departments.”

“The move to transition from administrative to advisory boards is a growing trend within the DSS,” he added. “Dinwiddie and Prince George Counties, for example, have gone that way a number of years ago and are considered high performance agencies.  The state cannot force the change, but they do have the authority to remove board members.  Ultimately, whether to go with an administrative or advisory DSS board is up to the Board of Supervisors in each county.”

When asked to define the differences between the two types of boards, Douglas said, “Under administrative boards, the DSS director reports to that board and they have authority on employment decisions, approving spending, and some fiscal and personnel and programmatic authority. Under an Advisory board, the DSS Director reports directly to the County Administrator and the DSS director basically will be treated like any other department head.”

“In other words,” he continued, “the County Administrator is responsible for overseeing the DSS, but with significant oversight by the DSS regional office.   The Advisory Board meets 4 times a year and makes recommendations on budget and general employment issues, but will no longer control personnel decisions, which means employment practices now will mirror those of other county offices and the director basically will be treated like any other department head.  I’ve always considered the DSS Director to be a part of our management team and participate in meetings anyway, and Will (William "Will" Hagy, Social Services Director II) has been very involved and supportive.”

Douglas emphasized that the change was not his idea, adding, “I was notified by the state and had an obligation to pursue it.”  

According to Douglas, there are some specific administration details yet to be ironed out, but the switch from Administrative Board to Advisory Board was effective immediately following the decision by the Board of Supervisors.