By Wayne Gates
The Brown County Commissioners are weighing in on the performance of the Brown County Veterans Services Office.
The commissioners sent a letter to Common Pleas Judge Scott Gusweiler on August 29 expressing concern about the amount of financial assistance offered to veterans and the perception of the way they are treated by BCVS Director Ralph Fox.
“Our Board would like to express our concern regarding the Veterans’ Services Budget,” the letter begins.
It continues, “We have observed the amount of funds budgeted to the Veterans’ Services staff salaries then compared the amount allotted for the benefit of veterans; these amounts are not proportionate.
Bordering counties collect less tax revenue, but still spend more on veterans’ assistance. An experience we would like to share was a Brown County Veteran who disclosed to our Board that he seeks services in Adams County, a lesser funded agency. Even though he resides in Brown County because he has been treated more humanely by Adams County Veterans’ Services. Further, this gentleman would not pursue help at Georgetown again because of the manner in which he was addressed by Mr. Fox.
Our Board is sincere in our concern for veterans and again wanted to express our misgivings regarding the budget approved and submitted by the Board of Veterans Services. We hope to see more funds allocated to veterans’ assistance in future budgets. Brown County Veterans‘ Services has continued to request the full amount of the maximum funds generated by the five-tenths of a mill per dollar on the assessed value of the real estate in Brown County. Our Board hopes to see this money service a greater volume of veterans.”
Information provided by Brown County Auditor Jill Hall after a public records request by The News Democrat shows that the BCVS office was allowed to budget $402,500 in 2017. Of that money, $53,350 was spent on veterans relief and Memorial Day expenses. The rest of the money was spent on salaries and benefits for the office and for operation of the office.
The Brown County Commissioners spoke to The News Democrat about the letter on Sept. 10.
“About five veterans have come into our office since I’ve been commissioner that said that they won’t go back there because they haven’t been treated like a human being,” said County Commissioner Barry Woodruff.
He said that the commissioners were concerned about three things at the BCVS office. The first two are the treatment of veterans and the amount of money being spent on staff salaries versus assistance.
“And third, how are they accountable to the public? This is public money they are spending. And there is no accountability,” Woodruff said.
Commissioner Tony Applegate said “We have all had concerns since we’ve been in office about how their budget looks. We are concerned about how they spend their money.”
Commissioner Daryll Gray added “I can’t understand why that if a veteran walks in there that they don’t bend over backwards to give them the assistance that they need.”
The investigation into allegations of Fox creating a hostile work environment are continuing by the Brown County Veterans Services Commission, a five person board whose members are appointed by Gusweiler.
The BCVS commission is meeting this week with other employees of the office to continue to gather facts before making a decision regarding the status of Fox. He has been on paid administrative leave since July 2.
He was placed on leave following the hostile work environment complaint filed with Gusweiler by BCVS Officer Cheryl Childers.
John Woliver is serving as attorney for Mr. Fox while he remains on paid administrative leave. He said that it’s difficult to hold his client responsible for feelings of mistreatment that may have resulted from enforcement of BCVS board policy by Fox.
“It may be that a commissioner member advised a veteran or a veterans relative that he or she was not eligible for financial assistance. That advice would be given carrying out the policies established by the commission members. Not withstanding that, the veteran or family member may feel that this constituted negative treatment,” Woliver said.
He added that the public has already been given the opportunity to make any concerns known to the BCVS commission.
“The commission had a large meeting attended by numerous veterans (on July 31) to discuss their experiences with the Brown County Veterans Service Commission office. Most of the comments given were very positive. Admittedly, there were some negative comments, but it’s important to emphasize that the comments both ways sometimes were addressing issues that took place a decade or longer ago.”
Woliver said that those seeking assistance from the BCVS office are given the opportunity to give written feedback about their treatment to the BCVS commission.
“Because you don’t see those written complaints in any fashion, I question whether there is a small number of persons trying to place the place the Brown County Veterans Service office in a bad light to achieve a result,” he said.
Regarding concerns about the amount of money actually spent to help veterans, Woliver said that Fox and other office employees are limited in what they can do.
“All of the employees of the Brown County Veterans Services commission carry out the commissions policies. Those financial policies, I understand to be different than those of other counties…That’s not a matter of one employee or even the director Mr. Fox treating anybody poorly, it’s carrying out those policies. If the commission wants to change its financial policies, it can do so,” Woliver said.
The BCVS Commission had no comment on the letter to Gusweiler from the Brown County Commissioners. The next meeting of the BCVS commission is at 9 a.m. on Sept. 25 at the BCVS office at 474 Home Street in Georgetown.