For many years, the Governor's Advocacy Council on Persons With Disabilities has lacked the independence necessary to protect North Carolina's most vulnerable citizens. It falls under the Department of Administration, yet, says council board Chairman Mark Urban, "is often in the position of suing the state or a state-licensed facility."
In other words, the council must guard the henhouse, but it must live with the hens.
After several delays, Gov. Mike Easley has proposed "redesignating" the council to a Raleigh nonprofit group, Carolina Legal Assistance, which has provided legal assistance to persons with disabilities for 15 years; the council has occasionally contracted its services (see "Turning the disabled into a political force," March 31, 2004).
If approved by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the changeover would happen July 1.
The council's effectiveness has been hampered by state bureaucracy, says Urban, an Easley appointee. "We have people with disabilities having life or death issues happening to them in a matter of days, but because of state personnel policy, it takes me six months to contract with an attorney."
Some council employees oppose the move because they could lose their jobs. However, for one year, any laid-off workers will receive priority for state jobs for which they are qualified; they also will be paid severance.
"I can't fault them," Urban says. "But I answer to persons with disabilities in the state who have spoken clearly that this is what they want."
The public can comment on the proposal through April 30. Send comments to McKinley Wooten Jr., Deputy Secretary, Department of Administration Internal Services and Programs, 1301 Mail Services Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-1301.