Crowley Merging County Departments
The administration says the move will make for better service, but not everyone is happy.
The Milwaukee County Department on Aging (MCDA) and the Department of Veterans Services would be moved under DHHS. The Crowley administration says the move will make it easier for residents to access a broader range of services. But the citizen oversight body for the MCDA is feeling blindsided now that the organizational shuffle has been announced, and questions whether the merger is really the best route.
All year, members of the Commission on Aging, the body that oversees MCDA policy, have suspected that the county had plans to subsume the Department of Aging under DHHS. But they were never provided clear answers, nor were they involved in planning the merger.
MCDA owns and operates the county’s senior centers, meals, programming, transportation and other services. The approved operating budget for the department in 2020 was $20.3 million.
On Monday, Richmond Izard, chairman of the commission, released a statement expressing concern that the administration’s process for planning the merger has lacked transparency, both for the commission and the county’s seniors.
“To not allow seniors to be aware of this process is just a breach of communications and transparency,” Izard told Urban Milwaukee.
While granting the county executive has authority to reorganize departments and units, Izard said the commission and seniors should have been involved in the decision making and planning process for the merger. Seniors should have been engaged as to whether the department should be subsumed by DHHS, and how the merger would affect the administration of services, he said. And if part of the impetus for merging the departments was budgetary — given the county’s ongoing fiscal crisis — all the more reason to get input from stakeholders, Izard said
“I can’t understand why the department and administration has delayed releasing this information to the commission and public,” Izard said. Members of the commission believe the plan to transition MCDA under DHHS started under former County Executive Chris Abele’s administration.
Shakita Lagrant-McClain, recently appointed director of DHHS, has served as interim director of both DHHS and the Department on Aging since May. If the department is merged, it will lose a cabinet-level representative, its executive director. This, Izard said, is the kind of thing that the commission and seniors should know before a decision is made to “demote” the department.
And while Izard is not against merging the departments, per se, he said he has yet to see any evidence it will actually lead to better services for the county’s seniors. Governments are good at analysis, he said, and he has yet to see empirical data, or analysis demonstrating this will lead to better outcomes for seniors.
After Izard released his statement Monday morning revealing the administration’s plans and expressing his concerns, the county executive’s office released a statement later in the afternoon explaining their plan for merging the departments.
While Izard said the department is being demoted, Crowley’s administration says the opposite, that they are “elevating care and county services for older residents.”
In the press release, Crowley said that Milwaukee County “is one of the few jurisdictions in the nation that has not shifted to a model that services the differently abled residents and older adults seamlessly, across the lifespan.”
Despite ever-tightening county budgets, Crowley said, integrating the departments allows for “greater investment in equity.” Specifically, the proposal creates three new positions. Two Human Services Workers, and an Elder Benefits Specialist that will help seniors and their families navigate Medicare.
Brandon Weathersby, director of communications for the county executive told Urban Milwaukee that bringing the department under DHHS allows it to draw on its “pool of administrative resources” and eliminate three management positions — Director of Administration, Program Coordinator, and Fiscal Director. “Those savings were invested into frontline staff and direct services to preserve and expand offerings to older Milwaukee County residents in 2021.”
The Department on Aging had a tax levy reduction goal of just over $300,000 for 2021. Eliminating those management positions allowed the county to “maintain services for aging residents thanks to the collective resources in DHHS,” Weathersby said.
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