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Commission Minutes

October 19, 2018

Present: Commissioners Celeste Branham, Jonathan Barczyk, Deborah Johnson, Ed Barrett, Dave Burns, Peter Doak, Libby Hite, Doug Horner, John Portela, Jamie Logan, Jenifer Tilton-Flood, Anita Stewart McCafferty, Luke Shorty, Maria Staples

Commission Staff: Maryalice Crofton, Michael Ashmore

Public Comment: No members of the public attended.

Call to Order: Commission Chair Celeste Branham called the meeting to order at 10:12 am. Commissioners introduced themselves and the newest member, Jonathan Barczyk, was welcomed.

Announcements: Chair Branham distributed the plan for addressing “parking lot” issues raised during the September retreat. A set of issues has been assigned to each of the next five meetings (through March). In November the issues to be addressed: Service Enterprise, National Service Programs in Maine, and Carver’s Board models.

On another topic, she noted that she reviewed the meeting evaluation forms. Two items were notable. There was a request for written staff reports. Those are done monthly and are posted with the agenda. The website has several years-worth so members can get a sense of office activities. There is also a concern which she shares that there isn’t enough time to discuss issues at meetings. She asked how members would feel if the meetings were lengthened by 30 minutes starting next month. The consensus was that a longer time is needed.

Quiz Answer: The appropriations increase will be shared by Senior Corps and AmeriCorps with Senior Corps getting $6 million. Correct answers were submitted by Maria Staples, Luke Shorty, and Ed Barrett.

Focus on Mission Responsibilities  
A. Briefing on Grant Selection Process and Subsequent Monitoring  
Michael Ashmore walked Commissioners through the selection process with emphasis on tech review tasks of the Commissioners assigned to Grant Selection and Performance. He also briefed those present on how grantees are monitored. Both items were requested during the retreat.

Business Reports
A. September Minutes
 (Branham)
It was noted the minutes should read there were 2 abstentions on the approval of minutes, not just one as the posted minutes state. Moved by Portela to approve the minutes with corrections. Second by Barrett. Vote on the motion: In favor -- 12. Opposed -- none. Abstain -- 1 (Logan).

B. Executive Committee (Branham)
There were no questions about the posted meeting notes for September. Chair Branham distributed the final list of Commissioner appointments to task forces. She noted the designated chairs could change if someone was unable to take on the role.

Assignments were as follows:  
GRANTS – Barrett (chair), Johnson, Schmidt. David Wihry to continue as public member. PUBLIC INFORMATION – Logan (chair), Tilton-Flood, Horner, Staples, Burns, Portela. FINANCIAL OVERSIGHT – Burns (chair), Shorty, Doak.
MAINE SERVICE FELLOWS – Hite (chair), Barrett, McCafferty.
25th ANNIVERSARY – Crofton (chair), Pellenz or designee, Portela, Branham and public members.
EXECUTIVE – Branham (chair), Pellenz, Barrett, Portela and chairs.

C. Grant Selection and Performance (Barrett)
The task force has two recommendations for Commission action. The first is to rescind the year two AmeriCorps grant award to Eastern Maine Development Corporation and end the program grant. Monitoring of year one operations uncovered serious instances of noncompliance and program performance is not acceptable. Moved by Barrett to rescind the AmeriCorps grant award to Eastern Maine Development Corporation. Second by Burns. It was noted the program had a delayed start so it has only operated 7 months. Vote on the motion: In favor – unanimous.

The second recommendation is to approve the request of the Brunswick School Department, a new AmeriCorps program grantee. They asked to convert the first year operating grant to a planning grant. This would allow them to continue developing all the systems and materials needed but not enroll members or provide service. The school department has an unusual number of vacancies on professional staff and is having difficulty filling them. Adding AmeriCorps members to understaffed school buildings creates supervision and other challenges. The task force agrees with the grantee that supervision and potential appearance of displacement should be avoided. This change would mean the program has a planning grant for one year and two years of operation. Moved by Barrett to convert the Brunswick School Department AmeriCorps year one grant from a $73,798 operating grant to a $20,000 planning grant. Second by Portela. In discussion, it was noted the balance of funds not awarded will become available to award in the special competition opening later this month. A representative of the school district asked to read a statement from the assistant superintendent, Pender Makin. The chair granted the request as part of discussion. The statement explained the districts plan for this period and thanked the Commission for considering the request. Vote on the motion: In favor – unanimous.

D. Excellence and Expertise.  
1. No report.

E. America's Service Commissions (ASC) Public Policy Committee update (Crofton) 
There are two efforts underway. One is thanking appropriators for the support. Letters were passed around for Commissioners to sign. These will be faxed to the officers of appropriators later today.

The second effort is related to a significant change in policy and procedure that the federal agency (CNCS) implemented without public comment and insufficient notice. States do not have a quarrel with the purpose of the change (ensuring all AmeriCorps members are eligible to serve) but the policy revokes a long-standing one of not holding applicants responsible for program administrative errors. In this case, the errors are increasing because the window of time for entering information into the federal database has been shortened from 30 days to 5 days and the method for completing the enrollment steps has changed. The procedural changes are not adequately documented, instructions to users are inaccurate, and the federal database is not debugged so many of the errors are not avoidable. A work group of state commission staff (including Maryalice) is developing a catalog of the problems, the impact on grantee performance, and recommendations for remediating the problems while still achieving the goal that instigated the changes. 

F. Public Information and Education/ Public Policy (TBD)  
No report

G. CNCS Update (Hite)  
The agency is promoting the national Drug Take Back day on October 27 as an opportunity for National Service participants to be involved in local projects as support volunteers. On another topic, staff in the agency are expecting the reform plan details to be announced in December and implemented immediately.

H. MCCS Staff (Crofton and Ashmore)
1. External Peer Reviewer Recruitment. Maryalice asked Commission members to help with recruitment of external peer reviewers for grants. The role description and application are on the grants tab of the business website.

2. Staff changes and interim assignments. Laurel Bernier ended her employment with the commission. That leaves two vacancies in the four-person staff. Interviews for the secretary specialist are headed for a second round. In the first set of applicants, only one person showed up for an interview, 3 accepted and skipped, and 11 declined. Maryalice was asked if there was a sense of why people declined. The reasons sorted roughly into two categories: the applicants did not have the skills; they accepted other jobs or decided to stay in their current position.

Maryalice will return to being acting Grant Officer and Michael will cover the financial tasks. The request to have some in acting capacity (a short-term appointment) to help as assistant Grants Officer has been granted. A qualified person is considering the position and, if he accepts, will start on November 5. The hiring freeze exemption for the Grant Officer has been approved so that position will be posted mid-November. There was a question about the wages. [The response to this question misstated the starting wages. Correct – Secretary Specialist is $16.01/hr; Grant Officer is $20.33/hr.]

3. Conference rebranding. The Blaine House Conference on Service and Volunteerism is being retired as the brand for the Commission’s major educational even for leaders of volunteer programs. As of October 2019, it will be the Maine Volunteer Leadership Conference and the new logo was shared with Commissioners.

4. CNCS decision to issue debt collection letters.  
This has the potential to be bad public relations. In March, CNCS revealed they had over seven years of records for individuals whose eligibility to serve could not be verified through social security numbers. Instructions to programs had been to request specific documents, view them, record document numbers, sign and date. They were never asked to keep copies or send them to CNCS although many did keep copies when it was legal to do so. Between March and August, CNCS sent lists of unverified individuals to current and former program sponsors with instructions to provide the documents. At the same time, CNCS did not staff up to handle the volume of documents submitted and they did not provide a reliable, secure way to transmit that could handle the volume. In August, CNCS decided to end the manual review and told states they expect to start issuing debt collection letters. There are a couple of Maine programs that will be impacted.

Planning and Future Initiatives 
A. Informational items from retreat 

Libby Hite distributed the CNCS organizational chart requested at the retreat.

Celeste shared the update on the Commission policy on electronic attendance at meetings. The advice from the Attorney General’s Office has been revised. Unchanged is the quorum must be in the room listed in the legal notice. Other members can join electronically but may not be counted in any votes on motions. The participation in voting is the change.

Celeste asked Maryalice to explain VolunteerMaine.org. It is a website launched in 2002 as a joint project of four partners (Maine Association of Nonprofits, the Commission, United Ways of Maine, and Maine Association of Broadcasters). The goal was to have a “one stop shop” for both agencies operating volunteer programs and citizens seeking to become involved in volunteer programs. The Commission has always managed the website sections for program staff while linking to a United Way platform that advertises volunteer opportunities. Over time, the Commission partners moved on to other priorities and MCCS has sole custody of the site. It has all the information for program staff and a link to the United Way’s new platform.

B. MCCS Budget and Funding (Crofton)
The briefing on funding sources and the Commission budget had to be postponed to November as the meeting time limit was reached.

Business Wrap Up 
The next Commission business meeting will be Friday, Nov. 9, in Cross Office Building Room 339.

The motion to adjourn was approved unanimously. The meeting adjourned at 12:17 pm.