COLUMBIA — Three candidates for Boone County public administrator agreed the office was not well understood and discussed the challenges of the office at a forum Tuesday evening at the Columbia Public Library.
The public administrator handles the affairs of people unable to do so who do not have a guardian willing or able to do so themselves.
Norman Lampton and John Sullivan are running as Republicans for public administrator. Lampton was not at the forum. Connie Hendren, the former public administrator, is running against current public administrator Cathy Richards on the Democratic side.
KFRU radio host David Lile moderated the forum, sponsored by the League of Women Voters. The election will be held Aug. 7.
Independent living for clients of the public administrator
A 1999 Supreme Court decision in Olmstead v. L.C. held that states should provide services to people with disabilities in a community-based setting rather than an institutional one whenever possible.
- "We care that agencies providing services to them maximize their independence," Sullivan said. He proposed one way to ensure clients of the public administrator enjoy as much independence as possible was to collaborate with groups that "are advocates for the disabled," and "bring them in."
- "I will do whatever the court so instructs me to do,” Richards said. "I am all for least restricted."
- "That decision I don’t feel has been followed anywhere close to where it needs to be," Hendren said. She said it was cheaper to put individuals relying on Medicaid in institutions, and she would pursue more funding so clients of the public administrator could be more independent.
Challenges of the office
Hendren and Richards, who have both held the office of public administrator, said a lack of funds was the greatest challenge of the office.
- "Funding is the biggest detriment, the biggest hindrance we have to providing the services we need," Hendren said.
- Sullivan said one way to get more community members involved to alleviate the strain on the office would be to use public service announcements. "All of you are part of the solution," he said.
- "I think more than anything we need more help," Richards said. She said she had modernized the office to make it more efficient when she was elected.
The visibility of the public administrator
The candidates at the forum agreed the public administrator’s office was the least understood position. However, while Sullivan and Richards offered ways to change that, Hendren said the position should not be a visible one.
- "Even when people think they understand what a public administrator does, a lot of times they don’t," Sullivan said. He reiterated his idea of using public service announcements to inform people about the position and how they can help. "The public administrator needs to be visible in the community."
- Richards said no one knew what the public administrator did when she was elected but that she has been working to change that. "It was a secret office, and I don’t know why," she said.
- "It’s an office that deals with people and their private, individual problems, and it shouldn’t be made public," Hendren said. "It’s what you do in the office, and if you do it well, no one needs to know."
In response to a question about what personal values or professional credentials qualified them for the office, the candidates spoke about their backgrounds and personal philosophies.
- Hendren said her background as an accountant helped her manage the large amount of money public administrators are responsible for. "We are to conserve those funds," she said. She also said she would like to get to know the clients of the public administrator as individuals because "when you get to know someone’s background, they become people to you."
- Sullivan said his experience as a nursing home administrator would help. He said his "respect for life in all its forms" and "the courtesy and respect" he extends to everyone are qualities he would bring to the position.
- Richards said her business degree helped her make the public administrator’s office more efficient, but that the human services aspect was more important. "You have to know how to talk with them, give them hope," Richards said.
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