Tuesday, May 16, 2000

Pressure mounts to fill empty chairs at MRDD

By Cindi Andrews
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LEBANON — Pressure from the Warren County commissioners finally has drummed all seven members off the county mental retardation board. But now it's the commissioners who are feeling the pressure — to refill the empty board.

        Without a board, some bills cannot be paid and decisions cannot be made about a permanent superintendent for Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities.

        “It's been a very difficult process in selecting the candidates,” Commissioners President Pat South said Monday. “... But it is imperative that (new board members) have a meeting in the next two to three weeks.”

        The commissioners have narrowed a field of 25-30 applicants down to seven, she said. Decisions on their five appointments are likely next week. New Probate Judge Mike Powell plans to name his two appointees by the end of the month.

        Commissioners suggested nearly two months ago that the seven members then on the board resign to give MRDD a fresh start. The revelation early this year that Superintendent Charlotte Marinacci bought two houses for the agency at vastly inflated prices drew a public outcry and led to Mrs. Marinacci's resignation.

        The county prosecutor is still investigating the purchases.

        MRDD provides education and housing services for the

        county's mentally disabled.

        “There were a lot of things that they were doing right over there,” especially in serving their clients, said interim Superintendent John Lazares.

        But Mr. Lazares and Paul Davis, a retired Hamilton County MRDD administrator who is helping him, are putting more cost controls in place and reorganizing administrative jobs.

        When the dust settles, Mr. Lazares would like to continue in his dual role as superintendent of both MRDD and the Warren County schools. It's a concept supported by his school board and superintendents in other Warren school districts, Mr. Lazares said.

        The dual position would save the county money, Mrs. South said. The former MRDD superin tendent's pay — among the highest of all county employees at $100,000-plus in salary and perks — has been criticized.

        Mrs. South said her conversations with some of the board candidates have touched on combining the jobs — a decision that would be up to the MRDD and school boards — but she's not using the issue as a litmus test.

        “I don't want to put a board in place with preconceived decisions,” she said.

        The commissioners are leaning away from appointing any past MRDD employees or board members, except possibly Sonya Staffan, Mrs. South said. Ms. Staffan, the newest appointee on the former board, never got further than a preliminary orientation for the board.


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