In April of 2021, following discussions related to concerns from state officials relative to a series of decisions by the Sussex County Department of Social Services(DSS) Administrative Board, the Board of Supervisors voted to change the Sussex County DSS Board structure from that of an administrative board to an advisory board.
Just over a year later, VA DSS Commissioner Dr. Danny Avula and VA DSS Eastern Regional Director Peter Gezzi visited the May 2022 Board of Supervisors meeting to address the changes that the state has observed since Sussex County made the transition from a local Managing Board to a local Advisory Board and to congratulate the county on their decision and the successes the change has engendered.
The move to change the local DSS structure effectively moved Sussex County’s DSS in line with a growing trend among high performing offices throughout Virginia. Under administrative boards, the DSS director reports to that board and they have authority on employment decisions, approving spending, and some fiscal and personnel and programmatic authority. Under an Advisory board, the DSS Director reports directly to the County Administrator and the DSS director basically is treated like any other county department head.
After first thanking the Board of Supervisors for accepting his request to be on the agenda to speak at the meeting, Avula went into some detail about the problems that caused the initial concerns. He then addressed subsequent changes and proceeded to congratulate and thank Sussex County for the past year’s DSS achievements under their new Advisory Board structure.
“We have been incredibly encouraged by the progress that the Sussex Department of Social Services has made over the last year,” Avula said. “We’ve seen a much improved relationship with the regional and state team, we’ve seen better communication, better responsiveness and we’ve seen significant improvement with financial practices, in the actual preventive practices that the case workers work in. The department has taken a huge stride forward, so we’re really encouraged with the way the county’s going and we’d like to see that continue.”
After the meeting, Board Chair Susan Seward said, “The Board greatly appreciated Dr. Avula making the trip to Sussex. It is encouraging that our shift to an Advisory Board has produced quantifiable improvements in the delivery of services to our most vulnerable citizens. Clearly there were deficiencies in fiscal management and a lack of follow up in cases that negatively impacted our citizens. The new management structure is a very positive step forward.”