Candidates debate focus of service

Seeking the office of public administrator, hopefuls focus on intentions for serving the disabled.
Sunday, July 11, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 7:42 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The candidates for Boone County public administrator might spend a lot of their time explaining a somewhat obscure job title, but they say that’s just as important as defining their intentions for the position.

Incumbent Public Administrator Connie Bell Hendren and her Democratic challenger, Larry Fowler, spent a large portion of Friday’s debate before the Boone County Muleskinners Democratic club interpreting terms unfamiliar to many — among them, words such as guardianship and conservator.

Republican opponent John Sullivan also attended the meeting but did not speak publicly.

There are two main elements to a public administrator’s job. He or she serves as the assigned custodian for the mentally or developmentally disabled and for minors without legal guardians. While this is a large component, there is a major financial aspect to the job. Public administrators are completely in charge of the finances, accounts and properties of their clients. Hendren works with 285 clients, who are under a court-appointed guardianship.

As a certified public accountant, Hendren said she is trusted by both her clients and the courts to handle their income and assets, something she said Fowler, without much financial experience, might not fully grasp.

“A lot of my clients with disabilities can live on their own; they just can’t manage their finances,” said Hendren, who has served as public administrator for 12 years.

Hendren’s office handles nearly $7 million in assets each year, and she is bonded for the full amount.

“People know that, yes, I pay their bills, I make sure they have money for their food and that they get it every week; I save up money so that when their TV breaks and they call me, I will have the funds to replace it,” she said.

Hendren said people with “unscrupulous intentions” tend to prey on her clients, who need to know there is someone out there who will keep their records and pay their bills.

Fowler said she lacks a human element that goes beyond bookkeeping.

As a retired nurse and minister, he countered by saying Hendren’s approach overlooks clients’ emotions. His education, he said, allows him to better treat his clients both medically and mentally. He said he would assemble a coalition of community volunteers to visit clients during holidays and weekends. This would particularly help the elderly and people with disabilities live more independently, he said.

“In my capacity, I can make decisions for my clients based on their mental and physical needs and still keep them in the least restrictive environment possible,” he said. “They are people, not numbers or statistics.”

Hendren mentioned several times she has worked with her clients’ families, organizing meetings and even taking family members into her home when they can’t stay anywhere else.

After the debate, Sullivan said he’ll have to investigate some of both Hendren’s and Fowler’s arguments before making his own. No matter what, however, he said it is natural and necessary for the public administrator to form personal relationships with his or her clients.

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