Commissioner Moran proposes that a commissioner serve on board of every health care provider that receives $500,000 or more each year from the county

He wins colleagues’ approval for 30-day termination clauses in health services contracts for 2022 fiscal year, in the event task force report regarding Mental Health Care Special District indicates need for changes in those services

Commissioner Michael Moran. News Leader image

No formal vote took place this week, but on Oct. 12, Sarasota County Commissioner Michael Moran won the support of his colleagues for a recommendation that the board members make it clear that they will ask for an audit of any organization that receives $500,000 or more each year from the county for health and human services programs.

Further, Moran talked of his desire to see a commissioner serve on the board of any health care provider that receives an allocation of $500,000 or more from the county in a given year. Moran explained that he has talked with County Attorney Frederick “Rick” Elbrecht about the proposals. Elbrecht told him, Moran said, that Elbrecht needs more time to research those suggestions.

As a result, Chair Alan Maio asked Moran to bring up the topic again during the board reports on Oct. 26, when the commissioners will have their next regular meeting.

In 2019, Elbrecht had to seek a ruling from the Florida Commission on Ethics to ensure that Maio could serve on the board of the nonprofit Suncoast Aquatic Nature Center Associates Inc. (SANCA), because of the fact that the county provides funding to SANCA. In December 2019, the Ethics Commission finally gave its go-ahead for Maio’s joining the SANCA board, months after the Office of the County Attorney made a formal request for an opinion.

SANCA manages events at the county’s Nathan Benderson Park near Interstate 75 and University Parkway.

After Moran raised his proposals during the commission’s regular meeting this week, Commissioner Nancy Detert voiced concerns about the number of board seats that each commissioner already holds; she estimated the total at eight to 10, “and we’re having trouble filing gaps.”

Commissioner Christian Ziegler added that he understood the value of such service in terms of providing oversight for the expenditure of taxpayer dollars. Yet, he concurred with Detert about the fact that each commissioner already has multiple responsibilities on boards. As for the audit: “I think it’s a good idea,” Ziegler said.

Commissioner Ron Cutsinger agreed with Moran about the board seats. “We’ve saved a lot of money” by attending meetings and keeping an eye on expenditures of county funds, Cutsinger added.

Still, he said he wanted to know how many extra boards would be involved.

Moran responded that he purposely had settled on the $500,000 figure because only five entities receive that amount or more from the county for health and human services.

Moran noted that the providers file paperwork with the county about their expenditures, but he wants “a much more pro-active approach.” The goal is for the commission to get the information it wants, he added, instead of relying on the providers to turn over all the pertinent details about how taxpayer funds are spent.

Commission Chair Alan Maio. File image

In regard to the call for audits: Chair Maio pointed out that county staff requires considerable information from homeowner associations that apply for funding through the county’s Neighborhood Initiative Grants Program; the awards typically are between $5,000 and $10,000. “If we’ve got the time to do that,” when those associations are just asking for money to beautify entries to their neighborhoods, for example, he said, “and it’s legitimate and legal” for the commission to ask for audits, as determined by the Office of the County Attorney, “then we should, may, possibly will ask for an audit.”

Moran raised the issues in advance of commission votes on Oct. 12 for the funding of health and human services programs for the 2022 fiscal year, which began on Oct. 1.

First, the board members unanimously approved the allocation of $8,866,447 to what county staff categorizes as “Core Human Services Programs.” Those are the ones “which the Board considers essential to the quality of life in our community or which are required to be funded through a statutory obligation,” an Oct. 12 staff memo explained.

Among those services are funding for court programs involving juveniles and legal aid; “[b]ehavioral health crisis beds and associated services”; children’s medical exams following allegations of abuse, neglect or abandonment; legal aid to prevent homelessness; measures designed to increase stability for eligible families; and other services to help the homeless, including beds at the Salvation Army for persons who want to try to make the transition into housing.

For example, Centerstone of Florida Inc. will receive $230,085 — 100% of its proposed budget — for the Comprehensive Treatment Court, which is a program of the 12th Judicial Circuit Court. That initiative “is designed for those individuals who are charged with a qualifying offense, suffer from a serious mental illness and are unable to meet their basic needs,” a document in the commission’s Oct. 12 agenda packet explains. To be eligible for assistance, the document adds, a person must be unable to participate in an outpatient treatment program because of “a significant barrier to treatment,” such as homelessness, untreated mental illness or lack of transportation.

Through the third quarter of the 2021 fiscal year, the document notes, 17 of the 22 program participants had reduced mental health symptoms upon their discharge, as shown by assessments before and after treatment.

This is detailed information in the Oct. 12 agenda packet regarding the funding for CASL to continue support of the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office SHIFTS program for the 2022 fiscal year. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The work of the Human Services Advisory Council

Under a separate item on the Oct. 12 agenda, the commissioners unanimously approved a total of $4,044,513 for 57 health care programs to be handled by 30 agencies in the 2022 fiscal year, which began Oct. 1.

The county’s Human Services Advisory Council (HSAC) makes the recommendations on those awards.

Among the service providers, the Florida Center for Early Childhood Inc. will receive $698,675 for six programs; the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota and DeSoto Counties Inc. will receive $474,500 for services for Sarasota County youth; Children First of Sarasota Inc. will get $416,789 for Early Head Start and Early Childhood Education programs for youngsters from birth to age 5, as well as a Families First Institute/Nurturing Dads initiative; First Step of Sarasota Inc. will receive $318,235 for outpatient services; and the Safe Children Coalition Inc. will receive $$265,471 for five programs, including a youth shelter.

Debra Douglas addresses the commissioners on Oct. 12. News Leader image

Before the vote, the chair of the Human Services Advisory Council, Debra Douglas, provided an update to the commissioners on the board’s activities over the past year.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, she pointed out, the council members were unable to pursue their normal process of reviewing all the applications from service providers seeking funds before providing the council’s recommendation to the commissioners. As a result, she noted, the commissioners agreed to keep the amounts for the 2022 fiscal year at the FY 2021 level.

Nonetheless, Douglas added, she and her colleagues had worked to make certain that the money awarded “properly and appropriately” for the last fiscal year, which ended on Sept. 30.

Since the council members received county staff clearance to meet again in person, she continued, they have required all of the funding recipients to send representatives to explain to the them how the funds were used in FY 2021 and what changes the organizations had to make in their work because of the pandemic.

Douglas further noted that five new members joined the council over the past fiscal year. Adding first-time members enables more community residents to learn how the county’s allocation of health care funding works, she said.

Moreover, Douglas pointed out, the new members “bring new ideas. They’re bright,” and many of them have “pretty impressive resumes.”

Looking ahead to the 2023 fiscal year, Douglas continued, the council members hope to be able to accept and review applications in person.

Contract termination clause issue raised

Before the commissioners approved the funding recommendations for the 2022 fiscal year, Commissioner Moran talked with Chuck Henry, who not only serves as the county’s Health Officer but also as director of the county’s Health and Human Services Department.

Moran noted that, earlier this year, at the commission’s request, Henry appointed subject matter experts who are reviewing all of the county’s allocations for mental health and substance abuse services. The goal of the group’s work is to provide a detailed report to the commission — likely in March or April 2022 — on gaps and overlaps. That report will guide expenditures for services in the future that will be provided through the Mental Health Care Special District that the commission established in June. The commissioners serve as the governing board for the district.

Moran told Henry that he was concerned about the potential need to adjust some of the funding allocations for FY 2022 after the task force delivers its report.

“All of our contracts have some termination clauses in them,” Henry explained. Typically, he added, the timeline is 30 to 60 days.

If termination “for cause” is necessary, Henry said he believed the timeline is 24 hours.

This is a sampling of the funding for programs as recommended by the county’s Health Services Advisory Council for the 2022 fiscal year. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Moran asked Chair Maio if Maio felt the commission should direct staff to make certain that each contract has a 30-day termination clause. That way, Moran said, if a task force recommendation dictates the necessity of a change, it would not take long to enact that change in the allocation of funds.

Maio suggested that Moran incorporate that direction in a motion. County Attorney Elbrecht concurred, saying, “That would be legally appropriate.”

Therefore, Moran made the motion to authorize county administration to execute the HSAC contracts consistent with the documentation in the board’s agenda packet, after working with the Office of the County Attorney to ensure that no termination clause exceeded 30 days.

Moran included in that motion a stipulation that termination of a contract for cause should be immediate.

Commissioner Detert seconded the motion, and it passed unanimously. “I don’t think we’ve ever had a problem getting out of a contract,” she said. Nonetheless, she agreed with Moran that his proposal is “a good safeguard …”