Commentary

No communication makes bad situation worse

I wrote last week about transparency in state government. It seems in Austin that they always know what is best for other folks, but miss the ball on their turf.

I had an experience last week that makes me wonder if I really do want to know what is going on in state government. It made me wonder if knowing what is going on all the time is good for a person's blood pressure.

Milam County cooperates with the state Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) in a program entitled Services To At Risk Youth (STAR). This is a state funded program operated by private contractors throughout the state.

STAR prov ides ser v ices to youngsters considered to be at risk that include crisis intervention services, emergency shelter placement, curriculum-based groups and family therapy services free of charge. The STAR program has been operating in Milam County for ten years. Tiffany Greene of Cameron has been the counselor for this program since its beginnings in Milam County.

Central Texas Youth Services was the contractor for the STAR program up until August 31st of this year. It seems as though the authorities with DFPS were disappointed in the performance of Central Texas Youth Services as a contractor and decided not to renew their contract for the upcoming fiscal year. They knew this toward the end of June or first part of July.

The problem begins when they fail to let anyone else know the contract was not being renewed. DFPS stated to me t hat t he contractor was supposed to let us know. However, the state depends on us to provide office space and utilities for the program so it would seem that the county was a player in this game and we should have been advised of the changes.

We first found out the change was coming on Aug. 25. Some folks from Twin Cities Mission, the new contractor, walked into Mrs. Greene's office and said we are taking over, you are out of a job. Maybe not those words exactly, but this was the first Mrs. Greene had heard of the coming change as well.

One would think that changing contractors is no big deal, right? Well in this instance it is. The county cannot participate in agreements with private contractors without a formal Memorandum of Agreement. This is a document that outlines who is going to do what. Without the agreement the office cannot operate.

During conferences with the new contractor and David Whiteside of the DFPS I informed them that the county would keep the same arrangement with the new contractor. In the meantime, again due to lack of communication, the DFPS sends a truck to clean out the office. Mind you this is the same office that will be open as soon as the agreement is finalized, and mind you the same truck will most likely bring back the same office furnishings at the expense of the taxpayer.

Not only does this situation result in increased cost to the taxpayer another, perhaps more costly, consequence is the lack of services to the youth at risk in Milam County. The STAR program provides ongoing service, so while the service is down there are youngsters that are left without services they depend on.

The other major outcome, and perhaps the most damaging in the short term, is the loss of the counselor that spent 10 years building rapport with the clientele she served. Ten years of building trust with these at risk youth and 10 years of working with parents and other organizations in the county that provide resources.

I know, the new counselor will rebuild all of these bridges that went up in flames last week, but how long will it take and at what price?

One phone call could have at least kept the program operational so the new counselor could step right in. We just have to hope that the administrators at DFPS learn something from this.

fsummers@co.milam.tx.us


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2009-09-03 digital edition



The burn ban for Milam County has been lifted. Burning is always prohibited in the county's municipalities.


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