Tri County board says it will not decertify


Frozen meals to be delivered in place of Meals on Wheels service

The Tri County Community Action board will attempt to maintain its certification and eventually resume the operations that have now either been removed from its control or suspended until funding issues are resolved, the board’s director said after a Thursday meeting that was largely closed to the public.

And the 300 or so seniors and homebound individuals who were receiving meals through the agency’s Meals on Wheels program could get a delivery soon of five frozen meals to help get them through until a more stable temporary solution is in place.

“Our goal is not to decertify,” board president Al Evans said after the meeting had adjourned. “As woeful as this organization is right now, the majority of the people in these counties want a community action commission to serve them and not a hodgepodge of services.”

The financial situation at the agency, which provides a variety of social services in Logan, Champaign and Shelby counties, had become so dire they did not have enough cash available to pay this week’s payroll and utilities companies were threatening to discontinue services if payments were not received.

Last week, the board placed director Denise Birt on unpaid administrative leave and on Monday, they voted to lay off 15 employees and discontinue Meals on Wheels and senior nutrition congregate sites until further notice.

Two other services previously offered by the agency — utilities assistance and home weatherization programs — had already been turned over to the control of the neighboring Community Action Organization of Delaware, Madison and Union Counties. Transportation services have been able to continue through funding of other agencies.

Ohio Developmental Services Agency has been withholding payments from the agency’s Community Services Block Grants because of Tri County’s inability to properly account for the way the money was being spent.

Jacqueline Yoder, who took over as financial officer for Tri County earlier this year and was largely responsible for bringing much of the financial picture to light, reported at the meeting that several checks arrived in time to pay employees for the time they had worked up to the layoff and to keep the utilities turned on through April.

Among the board’s options is decertification, which is a voluntary process of giving up its status as a community action commission, Mr. Evans said. That option, however, would be like “a nail in the coffin” for programs like Meals on Wheels, board members said at the brief open portion of the meeting.

During the open portion, representatives from Union Station, the new community center located at the former Southeastern School in Bellefontaine, offered their services on a temporary or permanent basis in taking over the senior nutrition program.

“As a temporary solution, at no expense to the board, we would take over Meals on Wheels,” Union Station board member Tim Harman said. “Or if there is anything else Union Station can do, we are willing to do anything we can to move things forward.”

Mr. Evans, an Urbana business owner, said he has also been approached informally by several agencies in Champaign County which are willing to assist in providing meals for the elderly.

The Area Agency on Aging, which is the primary funding source for the local senior nutrition program, has notified residents receiving meals it would deliver five frozen meals per week, although it is unclear when those meals will be delivered, interim director Rebecca Tumblin said.

Mr. Evans said he decided to close the largest part of the meeting, during which the agency’s financial picture was discussed, because it dealt with “sensitive” personnel and legal matters. He also said he had spoken with Champaign County Assistant Prosecutor Jane Napier, who is not the board’s attorney, and she said the board may not be considered a public body under Ohio law.

“The question was whether they are a public body,” Ms. Napier said in a brief telephone interview. “They are a corporation, a non-profit private entity and my opinion is that they are not subject to the Sunshine Laws.”

Ohio Attorney General opinions, based on the 1990 ruling State of Ohio ex rel. Toledo Blade Co. vs. Economic Opportunity Planning Association of Greater Toledo, however, tend to indicate that community action commissions and similar agencies are considered public bodies subject to Ohio’s Open Meeting Laws.

The board was not able to have an attorney present at the meeting because it owes approximately $19,000 to the Thompson, Dunlap and Heydinger law firm that previously represented the agency.

Mr. Evans said the Ohio Association of Community Action Agencies has agreed to contract with the law firm to continue to provide services for the board as it attempts to repay that debt and debts to numerous other creditors.

The board plans to have another emergency meeting next week when an attorney can be present, Mr. Evans said.