by Hannah Sayle
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.
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.”