"The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only object of good government." -- Thomas
Last month in my column, I discussed the "checks and balances" in our system. In other words, the need to assure that we are accountable to the general public who as taxpayers have expectations that the money they pay in taxes is managed appropriately, and I inadvertently left one of the most integral parts in the oversight of the community developmental disability organizations (CDDOs); the Community Council.
Community councils were formed in the mid to late 1990s in response to the Developmental Disability Reform Act, the closure of state hospitals and those who felt that people with disabilities did not have a voice in their own care. The councils are made up of people with disabilities, family members, guardians, affiliates of the CDDO, employees of the CDDO and community members.
The intent of the community councils is to express opinions and make suggestions to the governing board of the CDDO. The suggestions and opinions include the types of services being offered and the manner in which those services are provided. In addition, they are responsible for overseeing the development, implementation, and progress reporting as to local capacity building plans in accordance with guidelines provided by the state, as well as the development and implementation of the dispute resolution process. The councils are required to meet at least quarterly to ensure that they fulfill their responsibilities.
The community council in the Tri-Valley CDDO catchment area has been called one of the best in the state due to the number of participants, its organization and the topics covered during their meetings. I am personally proud of the community council and the recommendations that they have made to ensure that they are provided the best quality services possible. Kathy Brennon, the CDDO director, and her staff have done a fantastic job organizing and guaranteeing that the community council fulfills its missions. One of the ways it does this is through its quality assurance committees that are made up of community council members and others. These committees visit the various sites and meet with clients and their staff to ensure that proper care is being given. They also look at independence, community integration and many other areas. If issues are identified, they are corrected immediately.
Dean Sears of Chanute, the president of the local community council, has told me on numerous occasions how proud he is to be president of the council. It is empowering for him. At the meetings, it is evident how seriously its members take their responsibilities by the number of comments or concerns. For many people with intellectual disabilities, this is their only opportunity to serve on a committee or council. Every year there is an election in which the executive members and council are chosen. One of the unique features of the elections is the picture ballots that are created by CDDO staff. Many of the clients are unable to read, so to ensure that they are voting for the correct person, the candidate's picture is placed beside their name. This is only a short synopsis of community councils, but their input into the day-to-day operations of community service providers should not be underestimated; it is very valuable.
Good stewardship starts at home and community councils are working hard to ensure that people with disabilities are provided the care and happiness that Thomas Jefferson mentioned.
Editor's Note: Tim Cunningham is the executive director of Tri-Valley Developmental Services, which serves developmentally disabled people in Allen, Bourbon, Neosho and Woodson counties.