Input sought on proposed county merger


— Discussion of a proposed merger of Walla Walla County's human services and health departments continued Tuesday, with people being urged to send in comments, ideas and opinions to county commissioners.

At an informational meeting, outgoing Human Services Department Director Daryl Daugs and Harvey Crowder, Health Department administrator, recounted the issues surrounding the proposal and why it is being put forward now.

The idea has been discussed for two years, Crowder said, starting not long after Daugs came on board to head to the Human Services Department. The issue has moved to the front burner due to Daugs' resignation, which took effect Tuesday, and reductions in public health funding.

The reason for the merger is to build on the strengths of both departments to improve services.

"Now it makes sense because there's a lot of things both these agencies do that overlaps," Daugs said.

Both men emphasized the idea is not to decrease positions in either department, with the exception of having a single head of both departments. "The real savings will be having one administrator, not two," Crowder said.

People who need the services of both agencies should not see any change, they said. The main consolidation would be of "back office" functions handling finance, administration and other matters.

Daugs said "probably the biggest challenge is merging the two agency cultures." Much of that is fairly simple matters such as "how do manager meetings happen and how does the decision-making process work?"

And, Crowder quipped, "Where do you hold the potluck?"

Humor aside, Crowder and Daugs said they will recommend to county commissioners to go ahead with the merger, name an interim director and the begin the process of consolidation with the goal of having it completed by Jan. 31 of next year.

There were few questions or comments at the end of the presentation, which was attended by about 18 people, many of them from the two departments.

One question concerned how a single administrator would manage all the people in the combined agencies, but Crowder said the director would only directly manage about 5-7 people, who, in turn, would be responsible for their departments. The analogy, he said, is like an army general who relies on his staff officers so he doesn't have to personally direct every single people under his command.

County Commissioner Jim Johnson, who was at the meeting with fellow Commissioner Perry Dozier, said "the impetus for this (merger) did not come from the commission" with an idea to reducing anyone's budget or personnel. "That was the whole idea here, to improve services," he said.

Dozier said he wanted employees of both agencies to get in touch with him to express their opinions on the proposal. "I think it's very important that you share your thoughts on this," he said.


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