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Archive for Thursday, March 26, 1998

SENIOR SERVICES DIRECTOR RESIGNS

March 26, 1998

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DCSS budget problems must be resolved by the board of directors without the executive director, who leaves her job next month.

The executive director of Douglas County Senior Services shocked staff Wednesday by resigning from the nonprofit agency, which has struggled with budget deficits three consecutive years.

Members of the DCSS board of directors voted unanimously to accept resignation of Marguerite Carlson, who since 1994 has headed the organization that provides transportation, meals, leisure programs, adult day care and community services to people older than 60 years of age throughout the county.

``The time has come for me to pursue other vocational options,'' said Carlson, who declined to say if she had a new job lined up.

Carlson requested that her last day be April 10. The board agreed to pay her an additional month's salary and compensate her for accumulated sick leave and vacation time. Her annual salary is $39,000.

The board's executive committee will identify an interim executive director and appoint a group to search for Carlson's successor.

Board Chairman Charles Warner, Lawrence, brought Carlson's resignation to a public vote after board members debated the issue in executive session. Several DCSS staff present for the vote hadn't previously been told of Carlson's plan.

``I apologize to all of you to hear it this way,'' Carlson said. ``That was not the intention.''

Board members praised Carlson for her dedication to DCSS, which had staggering budget problems when she was hired.

``I want to go on record to express appreciation to Marguerite,'' said member John Gingerich of Lawrence.

Warner added: ``We appreciate her effort over the years. We're sorry to see her go.''

Carlson has faced 3e had a new job lined up.

Carlson requested that her last day be April 10. sy at DCSS.

``It hasn't been a piece of cake,'' she said in an interview.

The Journal-World published stories in June about conflict at DCSS. Critics claimed the agency's board of directors was out of touch with the elderly. Carlson was criticized for financial and personnel mismanagement.

In July, Baldwin senior citizens asked the Douglas County Commission to slice $62,500 from the county's appropriation to DCSS and earmark it for a center serving the southern one-third of the county.

Commissioners rejected the Baldwin plan but also turned down DCSS' request for a $29,000 budget increase in 1998. Meanwhile, federal funding for DCSS was reduced and the agency's revenue projections once again proved to be inflated.

DCSS budget deficits were $22,300 in 1996 and $31,700 in 1997. Reserve funds covered that red ink, Carlson said.

Board members recently took emergency steps to slash the 1998 budget, which had been pegged at $828,000. What has been done so far won't be enough to prevent another deficit, Carlson said.

However, Carlson said the board should be credited with finally breaking the DCSS cycle of sticking with a budget based on unrealistic assumptions that fund-raising and program income would rise.

``Our budget is a lot sharper ... than what I inherited. This is the first time the budget is not being balanced by dreaming that we can raise more money,'' she said.

Carlson admitted that a portion of budget shortfalls could be attributed to ongoing legal battles with current and former employees. More than the budgeted $5,000 was spent last year on attorney fees. That will be the case this year, she said.

On Wednesday, the board voted to close by June 15 a meal distribution site at United Way headquarters. That should save DCSS about $4,000.

One of eight DCSS buses used to transport elderly persons was parked Jan. 1 in a cost-cutting move. It will be returned to active duty for three hours a day if a part-time driver can be hired.

Alice Fowler, a Lawrence resident who is legally blind, told the board that individuals who use buses funded by DCSS often couldn't obtain a ride. On average, 15 people are turned down daily. The high has been 60 requests in a single day. Previously, rides could be scheduled with 24-hour notice. Fowler said folks now must call five days in advance.

``The people that have contacted me ... are people with medical needs,'' Fowler said. ``I'd like the board to see if anything can be done to help the situation.''

Carlson said the city's collaborative bus system, which has served the elderly and disabled since 1994, wasn't functioning efficiently. Ridership demand has recently surged, she said.

``I'm concerned that people are not getting rides,'' she said. ``At some point, there is going to be a limit on rides, because there is a limit on dollars.''

Board members tabled a budget-reduction proposal that would shift three DCSS staff from full-time to part-time status, essentially paying them for a 30-hour work week.

``I just can't do that,'' said member Evelyn Swartz, Lawrence.

-- Tim Carpenter's phone message number is 832-7155. His e-mail address is tim@ljworld.com.

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