By Jesse Wood
Sept. 18, 2013. Once again, Commissioner Billy Kennedy spoke fervently about the reconstitution of the Smoky Mountain Center Board of Directors that will leave Watauga County and other northwestern counties in the state without representation.
“The next meeting may be my last meeting at Smoky,” Kennedy said.
His comments were similar to ones he made to his fellow commissioners in February regarding Senate Bill 191, which designates the restructure of the boards of local management entities (LMEs) to take place by Oct. 1. Under current statutes LMEs, which are responsible for managing, coordinating, facilitating and monitoring mental health, developmental disabilities and substance abuse services, could have up to 30 board members – which is how many the Smoky Mountain Center board had when Kennedy spoke up in February: 15 commissioners from each county and 15 at-large members selected by the appointed commissioners.
But under the changes required by October, the board’s composition will require 11 members to have a specific background – only one of which is a county commissioner – and will require local LME boards to have no more than 21 members.
In early spring, members of the Smoky Mountain board were scrambling to get the attention of state legislators for a possible exemption, which never occurred. Coverage areas with more than 1.25 million people are exempt.
Kennedy said at the recent Smoky Board meeting 10 board members were picked to stay on the board, which didn’t include Kennedy nor many of the northwestern county commissioners. He added that those that were chosen will likely not be in opposition “since they are still getting seats on it.”
“I am not sure they will be able to vote against it,” Kennedy said. “The only way to make a statement is to get the other board members to vote against the reconstitution of the board. They would have to vote themselves off.”
Kennedy suggested that “it might help my case” if the commissioners agreed to pen a letter and voice unanimous opposition to the restructuring of the board that leaves Watauga County without a seat at the table.
Chair Nathan Miller agreed to sign the letter, which would note that “we strongly condemn” this change. Miller also mentioned that he recently spoke with a Wilkes commissioner, who noted that Wilkes County is going bypass Smoky Mountain Center and send funds directly to Daymark Recovery Services, a substance abuse and mental health treatment provider serving 28 counties in the state including Watauga.
“So they have a little control,” Miller said, adding that he would rather do the same thing as a Watauga commissioner.
Yates responded, “I don’t want to send it anywhere we don’t have representation.”
The commissioners voted unanimously to draft a letter to take before the current Smoky Mountain Board of Directors.
For more details about this, read a previous article on the topic published in February.