A discussion about relocating the public administrator's office during the Phelps County Commission meeting Jan. 29 turned into a larger discussion in which commissioners expressed concerns about inefficiencies.
However, both Public Administrator Kathy Oliver and commissioners agreed that the problem is not unique to Phelps County and a fix would require changes across the state.
Oliver initially approached the commission to ask about switching offices with the senior companions office at the county courthouse.
It was noted that trading offices would give Oliver about 144 more square feet of space, which would provide more room for storing files and would give Oliver an office with more privacy.
Because of limited space in the courthouse, Oliver said she felt trading offices is the only option available except for finding a location outside of the courthouse that would need to be rented. By remaining in the courthouse, Oliver said she can be close if she is called to appear in court.
The commission agreed to relocate the public administrator and senior companions offices at the courthouse by around mid-April, but not before District Two Commissioner Gary Hicks asked Oliver about her clients who live in other counties.
Oliver explained that she is only given clients who initially live in Phelps County, but at some point, they may move to a different county.
In 2007, she was serving 108 clients but currently, she has about 160 clients. Of those 160, there are 42 clients who live outside of Phelps County, including in Vienna, Union, Houston, Farmington, Bismarck, Sikeston and as far away as Hannibal and Poplar Bluff.
Oliver said she visits the clients who live the farthest away from Phelps County about once a year.
The same thing is occurring to public administrators across the state who have to drive across counties for clients who they still serve.
"That's way too inefficient," said Presiding Commissioner Randy Verkamp. "It's so expensive and inefficient for you to drive to other places."
Verkamp said if Oliver continues to travel to other counties to visit clients, it will affect her mileage and personnel expenses greatly.
"At the pace you're expanding, it's unsurmountable," Verkamp said. "You're using tax dollars and it needs to be efficient."
"I keep as many people in Phelps County as I can," Oliver said.
District One Commissioner Larry Stratman said that taking care of the county's own is the right thing to do, but that taking care of residents who have moved away should not be supported by the county taxpayer's money.
While Oliver noted that a state statute (RSMo 475.115) allows public administrators in other counties, if they are willing, to begin accepting responsibility for those clients who move to their counties, some public administrators or judges in those counties refuse to accept the clients.
The statute reads: "A public administrator may request transfer of any case to the jurisdiction of another county by filing a petition for transfer. If the receiving county meets the venue requirements of section 475.035 and the public administrator of the receiving county consents to the transfer, the court shall transfer the case. The court with jurisdiction over the receiving county shall, without the necessity of any hearing as required by section 475.075, appoint the public administrator of the receiving county as successor guardian and/or successor conservator and issue letters therein."
"First I would need to talk to that public administrator (in another county) and tell them about the individual client or individual ward to see if they are willing to accept that transfer," Oliver said. "If they are willing to transfer, they need to give me a letter consenting that they accept." Then, a change of venue is needed.
For clients who take up a permanent residence in another county, it makes sense to transfer those individuals to the care of that county's public administrator, Oliver said, but noted there are some clients who, because of one issue or another, move away from one county and then move back into that same county.
Then there are cases where a home or facility may not have room for one of Oliver's clients, so she must look elsewhere, sometimes in other counties, to find a place that is willing to take the client.
Stratman said the Missouri Association of Counties and the state Legislature both need to be aware of this issue.