Shelby County Commission Votes to Defund Office of Early Childhood and Youth

OECY advocates hold out for reconsideration

Posted by Hannah Sayle on Wed, Jun 8, 2011 at 3:51 PM

On Monday, the Shelby County Commission voted 8-3 to defund the county’s Office of Early Childhood and Youth (OECY). Commissioners Brooks, Bunker, Ritz, Shafer, Thomas, Roland, Ford, Chism voted to defund the Office. Mike Carpenter, Melvin Burgess, Walter Bailey voted against.


The Shelby County Office of Early Childhood and Youth leverages about $400,000 in county funding each year to bring in millions of dollars — primarily from the state and federal governments. These funds are then directed toward programs that aid children and families.

According to a press release sent shortly after the vote, current funding is directed toward evidence-based pre-natal programs at the Med and Hollywood Health Loop clinic; providing hard-to-find resources like diapers, breast pumps, cribs, and car seats; and community-wide, multi agency, case management tracking software to follow families and improve the service delivery system.

Also hanging in the balance is $4.2 million awarded by the state, which would allow for six master-level social workers to recruit and follow pregnant and parenting teens in Memphis high schools and link them to quality pre-natal care, case management, home visitation services, Head Start, and Pre-K.

Dottie Jones, head of the Community Services Division for the county, says she’s not sure the commissioners were clear on the implications of the vote — or even that a “Yes” vote was a vote to defund the office.

“I personally believe the commissioners may have been confused about what a ‘Yes’ vote meant versus what a ‘No’ vote meant,” said Jones. “Literally by pushing the ‘Yes’ vote they might have thought they were voting ‘yes, I support the office’ rather than ‘yes, I want to defund the office.’”

“There is a lot of confusion about the office and what it does,” she added. “I don’t think there’s a good understanding of how we bring in money [and] leverage our general fund dollars. And there are some commissioners who believe that what they deem a ‘social program’ is not what the county government should be doing.”

The budget has not yet passed, leaving time for the defunding of OECY to be revisited. The rules of the commission allow anyone who voted on the prevailing side of the resolution — in this case, defunding OECY — to bring the issue up for reconsideration at the next meeting.

“Any one of those 8 people who voted to defund the office can bring the issue up and we could have another vote,” said Jones. “I think it’s likely. I’m hopeful that we’ve gotten the message out to enough commissioners over the last day and a half. It’s very hard to understand why someone would vote against an office whose entire purpose is to make sure that the welfare of children is an important aspect of Shelby County government.”

Comments (34)

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the parents need to be responsible or there child learning to abstienfrom having sex before marrage, but its not our job to feed ur face on the tax payers nickle do like the rest of the common folk do take a bag lunch to work with u, stop spending the taxpayers money on food there is more important things to concider in the Buget Richard cooley

Posted by oldbonkers on 06/08/2011 at 10:40 PM

Very eloquent and well spoken (spelled?). With such a great mind and high moral character, maybe we should simply defer all manners of decision making to your infinite intelligence and infallible morals?

Posted by mad_merc on 06/08/2011 at 11:50 PM

Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't this office created just a few years ago, back when then-County mayor Wharton was on a public tour asking people to give him suggestions of what to cut in a then-tight County budget? And wasn't its original budget something like $50K? Wasn't it also sold as a means of focusing legislative attention on the impact of their actions on the children of Shelby County? Now it's an expensive tool for leveraging State/Federal monies?

Posted by mike hollihan on 06/09/2011 at 1:36 AM

“There is a lot of confusion about the office and what it does"
That says it all for me. Why are some government services so obscure? If this office was providing a necessary service, I don't think it would be shrouded in mystery.

Posted by cdel on 06/09/2011 at 8:41 AM

The budget of the office was never 50,000. The office budget is 391,000, which leverages more than $6 million in federal, state and private grants for children. Specifically, the office administers those grants, holds the vendors providing the services accountable for results and fosters collaboration between agencies to limit competition for grant dollars and reduce duplication of services and realize efficiencies. The grants it adminsiters includes infant mortality, teen pregnancy and child passenger safety. We are one of three communities in the nation invited to apply for Defending Children grant funds that address youth exposure to violence and the long-term affects on children. The reason we have received these funds and the capacity of the office has increased is because of the competency of the staff and the increasing confidence granting entities have in the oversight of their money. Without this office, the Defending Children grant goes away and the liklihood of receiving the same level of funding from other entities decreases dramatically. The office was never sold as anything more or less than what it is today. There is no confusion about what the office does, only people to lazy to ask or unwilling to listen.

Posted by mikecarpenter1 on 06/09/2011 at 9:09 AM

The office was sold exactly as Hollihan described, Mr. Carpenter. I quote the Commercial Appeal (Feb 14. 2008): "As the head of the new Office of Early Childhood & Youth, Coffey will be tasked with coordinating the creation of child impact statements to assess the effect of laws and contracts on children." Your comment about people who are "to [sic] lazy" to determine the purpose of the office is an outrageous insult, and I call on you to apologize immediately.

Posted by Mick Wright on 06/09/2011 at 10:53 AM

Well Mick, he did offer you a choice. You can be either too lazy to ask _or_ unwilling to listen. Since you've made clear which of those you think applies to you, perhaps you should apologize to yourself.

Posted by autoegocrat on 06/09/2011 at 12:30 PM

I won't apologize. Your idea of research is a quote from the Commercial Appeal? Nice try, but here is the excerpt you left out: "Coffey, who spent the last four years as the manager of the City of Memphis' Sexual Assault Resource Center, said she envisions the county's office for children as a network of comprehensive, integrated and effective support and services," which is what I described above. The first year budget for the office was $100,000 and no grant dollars. Now it adminsters more than $6 million in NEW grant dollars since 2008. What's an outrageous insult is your attempt to discredit me and to offer no viable alternative for the thousands of suffering children in the community, many of which are served by the work of this office.

Posted by mikecarpenter1 on 06/09/2011 at 12:33 PM

Mr. Carpenter, it's regretful that you would react to Hollihan's sensible questions, and my second, with such an immature, belligerent attitude. It's unbecoming of an elected public official, and speaks poorly of you as a professional. Each of Hollihan's comments were interrogative, as indicated by the question marks at the end. Thus, he wasn't being "to [sic] lazy" to ask about a program that, as I briefly demonstrated, was introduced to the public with a different set of justifications than are being used now. Instead, Hollihan was doing just that, asking. Rather than thanking him for the question and taking the opportunity to explain, you responded by labeling him as lazy or unwilling to listen. Now you've doubled-down with your attempt to belittle me and my so-called "idea of research," mischaracterizing my comments and jumping to the ridiculous conclusion that I've 1. offered a position on the office and its budget, 2. that my position was negative, and 3. that I've failed to "offer [a] viable alternative." You've made an incredibly shameful spectacle here, and I must again ask for your apology.

Posted by Mick Wright on 06/09/2011 at 1:09 PM

Mike C, to be fair. Dottie Jones was quoted - “There is a lot of confusion about the office and what it does,” she added. “I don’t think there’s a good understanding of how we bring in money [and] leverage our general fund dollars." Sounds like you folks may be revisiting this.

Posted by tomguleff on 06/09/2011 at 1:22 PM

Mick, I never said anything about Hollihan. I addressed his questions without naming him and I characterized the quote from the article, “There is a lot of confusion about the office and what it does" as from those lazy or unwilling to listen. That quote was not part of Hollihan's post. In fact, it was a reference to the commissioners as the article above indicates. I stand by that characterization since administrators of the office have been before the commission many times and are accessible to those who want to know more about the office. Just as with past exchanges between us, you rarely address the facts, but turn to the Tea Party manual on character attacks and commence assualting. You offered the quote from the CA as proof, which indicates you thought it sufficient to defend your point. I merely showed that your effort was not sufficient and in fact a half truth. Clearly, you are rattled by that. I have the utmost respect for Hollihan and will gladly apologize to him if he took my comments about "lazy" and "unwilling to listen" as directed to him. The only shameful spectacle is how you have twisted a legitimate policy discussion into an online soap opera.

Posted by mikecarpenter1 on 06/09/2011 at 1:41 PM

You were responding directly to each of Hollihan's questions, Mr. Carpenter, not to a quote from the article, which is why he did and still deserves your apology, a fact you now feign to recognize. I reject your new set of personal attacks, which are as completely unsubstantiated, bogus and ill-considered as your earlier ones, and refer you back to my previous statement.

Posted by Mick Wright on 06/09/2011 at 2:18 PM

Yes, Mick. I did respond to all of his questions as I said in the previous post. You are 100% correct on that point. The quote about "confusion" was not in his post, comes from the article and is in reference to the commission.

Posted by mikecarpenter1 on 06/09/2011 at 2:31 PM

First, would either of you mind linking the CA article you're quoting? Jeez, internet 101, guys. :-) The OECY website, BTW, is: (Note that the main page is mostly them urging citizens to defend their County public funding. LOL.)

Second, mikecarpenter1, my first words were "Correct me if I'm wrong...." which is clearly an invitation to others to answer the subsequent questions and provide better/correct information. Every sentence in my comment was a question, BTW. Because I wanted to know. How this became "to[o] lazy to ask or unwilling to listen" baffles me, since neither you, Jones nor Sayle gave links to the OECY website to help me out. Again, embedded/inline URLs are internet 101.

I love that the article above allows Dottie Jones to provide commissioners with a path to walk back their votes safely and change the outcome, if they decide they need to, instead of further clearing up "the confusion" about what the office does. Heaven knows they devote a lot of space on their website justifying explaining themselves.

I was close, in that the County has gone from spending $100K to nearly $500K on OECY. The entirety of the monies they manage (according to their fact sheet, $6 million +), is other government money. (…) That's a long way from "coordinating the creation of child impact statements to assess the effect of laws and contracts..." which is what I remembered. I'd be curious to know what mandates or requirements for our community come with those dollars? How do those cost us? Where are the private funds they speak of? Are they consequent on first getting the State/Federal funds?

Things like that trouble me. As a small-government conservative, I see this as growing a web of dependence on government programs that take money from others to give to us. If any of these programs end or go away, how will OECY handle it? Will they turn to Shelby County or the State of TN to "make up" those funds?

Posted by mike hollihan on 06/09/2011 at 4:24 PM

Mike, I tried to answer your questions and provided additional information. I did notice the question marks after each statement. Sorry for not including links. As the sponsor of this measure, I have been defending the office for the last three years and I'm pretty familiar with its original role and continuing purpose.

The post immediately following your original quotes Jones from the article about commissioners being confused. My too lazy or unwilling to listen comment was in reference to her statement. That's because the office has existed for three years, commissioners have voted to accept grant dollars to that office and administrators have met with commissioners and presented many times. Failure of commissioners to understand what the office does falls on them.

As I pointed out earlier the office has grown. Initially it had no grant funding. Once grants were obtained, OEYC as the lead agency in many cases had to administer the grants and hold the agencies providing services accountable. That requires more than a 2 person staff. You are correct that the grant dollars are other government money that would go to other communities with a lesser infant mortality, teen pregnancy or youth violence problem if we did not apply or receive them. If OEYC goes away, then so will a large amount of grant dollars. Then the choice for local government is to find local dollars or ignore the problem. Churches, not-for-profits lack the capacity to deal with the magnitude of these specific problems alone, but can be part of the solution. There are some private dollars involved, but at the moment I don't know the exact amount. The requirements will vary by grant, but most of these do not require a local government match, but do require coordinator (staff) funded by the grant. If OECY remains, but grants expire, then like all other agencies the associated staff and programs will go away as well, unless a new source(s) of funding are found.

The bottomline on OECY is that it has brought accountability, collaboration, efficiency and new grant dollars to these children's initiatives. OECY is helping get the most bang for our buck as indicated by declining (though slightly) infant mortality numbers over the last two years.

Posted by mikecarpenter1 on 06/09/2011 at 5:08 PM

Mike and Mike, thanks for an illuminating dialogue. I wish all public officials were this straightforward.

Posted by BruceVanWyngarden on 06/09/2011 at 5:39 PM

See, this colloquy with a real, live elected official is why, as I've said before, the comment section of the Flyer is better than any of those creepy "social" networks.

Posted by M_Awesomeberg on 06/09/2011 at 5:41 PM

My comment just above got posted before I could edit some things, which I hate but there you go....

Anyway, my objection is primarily ideological in that I don't think government should behave this way, creating an office to essentially "game" a system built on dealing out money taken from the people. That way lies corruption and abuse, with a low likelihood of accountability. Clearly, we disagree and that's OK.

Posted by mike hollihan on 06/09/2011 at 5:44 PM

"Churches, not-for-profits lack the capacity to deal with the magnitude of these specific problems alone, but can be part of the solution."

This right here is the most clear proof you will ever find that Mike Carpenter is not an ideologue. As a liberal, I've been trying to get this precise point across to conservatives for nearly all of my adult life. Not to put words in your mouth Mike H., but how many more of Mike C.'s compatriots on the right will interpret this as a weakness of his, rather than a strength? Even if I'm not characterizing it correctly, at the very least, this represents a significant difference of opinion, as you say, on ideological grounds.

I'm always baffled by the widespread conservative belief that less spending is always desirable, as well as its corollary: the belief that liberals think of government spending as always good. No, we do not. The real difference, I think, is that ideological conservatives begin by asking how much they want to be taxed, then deciding from there what government services are necessary. Ideological liberals, on the other hand, begin by making a list of what they want from government, then proceed from there to find out how much it will cost.

With that statement, Mike C. just put himself in the latter category where government spending is concerned, whether he meant to or not. I see this as a positive, a feather in his cap, that he is open-minded enough to see it from the other side for a change. Contrast this against Obama's bland bi-partisanship, which keeps a scorecard of tit-for tat concessions and somehow always ends up short-changed. Which of the two do you really think is best equipped to accomplish their legislative goals?

If I could offer some sincere advice to the Shelby County Republicans regarding Mike Carpenter: you're holding a rare and precious gem in your hands. Don't throw it away.

Posted by autoegocrat on 06/10/2011 at 12:56 PM

Auto, Your third paragraph is as succinct an analysis of the difference between liberals and ideological conservatives as I've read anywhere. Kudos.

Posted by BruceVanWyngarden on 06/10/2011 at 1:21 PM

Here's a deal. DH, I'll give you Mike Carpenter, if you give us Jim Strickland. :)

Posted by tomguleff on 06/10/2011 at 2:35 PM

TG, you're an accurate observer of trendlines.

Posted by Jackson Baker on 06/10/2011 at 3:48 PM

I'll take it, Tom. I also think we could work out some kind of a deal for the allegedly heterosexual House member Stacey Campfield. I sense there's a flaming liberal somewhere inside that man, yearning to burst forth.

Posted by autoegocrat on 06/11/2011 at 5:06 PM

Auto, I am going to require some future draft choices for some of these deals. Your bench is not very deep at the state level. Maybe a lottery pick and some cash.

Posted by tomguleff on 06/11/2011 at 10:31 PM

Mike Carpenter, thanks weighing in to carry our public understanding further than the few lines of print it would ordinary receive. I am horrified that we would cut any budget item that returned on its investment so many fold. Thank you for fighting the good fight.

Posted by sbanbury on 06/12/2011 at 1:30 PM
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