Skip to main content

Commission Minutes

November 1, 2019

PRESENT: Jonathan Barczyk, Ed Barrett, Celeste Branham, David Burns, Julia Fiori, Matt L’Italien, Lisa Phelps, Jeni Tilton-Flood. Observing by skype, Luke Shorty.

Commission met at 19 Elkins Lane, Rm 110, Augusta. 

Public Comment Period. Program Directors Ray and Patricia Estabrook from the Game Loft AmeriCorps program gave an update on activities and evaluation. 

Call to Order. The meeting was called to order by Chair Celeste Branham at 10:11 am. After introductions, Branham announced additional changes in the Commission membership. Doug Horner resigned for personal reasons. There are now three vacancies. The new designee for the Commissioner of Education is Jessica Nixon, Chief of Staff. Likewise, the ex-officio representative for the Corporation for National and Community Service has been named. Libby Hite is being replaced by Anne Ostberg. Neither of the ex-officio members were able to attend today. Mathison Deering, one of the new youth commissioners, is also not able to attend today. 

Announcements and Appreciations. Branham distributed the program from the 25th anniversary celebration. She expressed her appreciation to everyone involved in planning and managing the October 11 anniversary celebration. She particularly noted Commission staff and the Commission members who helped that evening. She noted about 200 people were present. The weekend was busy for staff since the statewide conference was the following Tuesday. She asked Maryalice Crofton for a report on that event. 

The conference ran under its new name, the Maine Volunteer Leadership Conference. Just over 170 people attended the educational program at UMaine in Orono. Because Governor Mills was unable to attend, Melissa Denbow of Machias Savings Bank presided over the Governor’s Awards for Service and Volunteerism. The awards were reunited with the conference this year after being a separate event for over 10 years. The change gave recipients a larger audience of peers and attracted more media coverage than past years. Two plenaries gave attendees a chance to learn first from a national volunteer leader, Elisa Kosarin, and then Nate Wildes from Live and Work in Maine. 

Next Branham announced the practice of assigning mentors to new Commissioners would resume. Board members have a few more days to volunteer as mentors. She will make assignments before the end of the month. 

The Commissioner Quiz had two entrants: Lisa Phelps and Ed Barrett. The board for America’s Service Commissions is unique because members are both staff and board of state service commissions. There are 6 people who are both state service commissioners and members of the ASC board. 

Agenda Adjustments. There were no additions or deletions to the agenda. Moved by Pellenz to approve the agenda as published. Second by Burns. Vote on the motion: In favor – 5. Opposed – 0. Abstaining – Phelps, Fiori, L’Italien 

Consent Agenda.  Three items were covered in the consent agenda.  
- Moved that the minutes of the Commission meeting on September 26, 2019 be approved.
- Moved that the report of the Executive Committee meeting for October 22 be accepted.
- Moved the report of the Communications Task Force meeting on October 16, 2019 be accepted.

Second by Tilton-Flood. Vote on the motion: n favor – 5. Opposed – 0. Abstaining – Phelps, Fiori, L’Italien

Business Reports 
Grant Selection and Performance (Barrett). The task force will meet immediately after the business meeting. Two calls for proposals are open with applications due November 14. Peer review will be completed before Thanksgiving. The task force technical review will occur early December and recommendations for funding will be presented to the Commission for decision on December 20. 

Communications (Tilton-Flood, Roche). The task force met in October but only two members were able to attend. A timeline for the rebrand was the focus. The social media pages have been merged into a single one and the two websites maintained by the Commission are rebranded to the extent possible. Full rebrand will have to wait for construction of a new site. The chair and Communications Officer will meet next week to outline work for the next six months. As a reminder to Commissioners, the name change was official on October 16. 

National Public Policy issues. (Crofton) The ASC committee met by teleconference earlier this week. Appropriations in the Senate is still not making progress. The current continuing resolution to fund government ends November 21. Congress will not be in session long enough before the holiday break to deal with all bills. Another CR is expected but the question is how far into the future it will go. There is talk of doing a full year CR to clear the way for other issues emerging as more pressing. 

The committee also had a lengthy discussion of an emerging new CNCS policy that would clawback funds awarded to the states under guidelines that are being imposed retroactively. The funding impacted was awarded for a full year but then CNCS shortened the budget period to six months with the assurance states could carry forward unexpended funds. The consideration now would take back anything over 25% of unexpended. No cost extensions have been declared as not possible. All this is happening with 60 days left in the spending period. 

Appropriations language may authorize use of funds for a section of the federal law that has not been funded to-date. States would be allowed to use formula AmeriCorps funds for Serve America Fellows, a non-competitive full-time service option. The states particularly interested in this language are the states that find themselves responding to natural disasters every year. They need to place AmeriCorps members with organizations managing response and recovery. The standard requirement for a competitive process doesn’t fit with the urgent timeline for disasters. 

MCCS Staff Reports
Volunteer Generation.  Ashmore reviewed the grant purpose and activities for Commissioners. The first set of grants is coming to a close. The second call for proposals is open now with a December deadline. Awards would be made in January and run 18 months. The funds support improvement of volunteer engagement in the grantees. This goal has two requirements: the organizations must undertake Service Enterprise as a means to change and strengthen volunteer engagement; and, demonstrate effectiveness of change by increasing the number of new volunteers. The focus areas for activities are the same as AmeriCorps: rural transportation, aging in place, and food security. 

In the first round, five grantees were funded. Four of them are under no cost extensions which, if they choose to recompete, would put them on the same timeline as new grantees. Only one current grantee (Eastern Maine Area Agency on Aging) has indicated it will not recompete. Progress on performance goals under the first half of the grant: 

Grantees Total Volunteers Recruited =  1725 
Grantees Total Volunteers Trained =  1513 
Grantees Total Hours by New Volunteers = 21,424   

Two of the five completed Service Enterprise training and one of those is fully certified. The other is submitting the certification portfolio soon. United Way of Eastern Maine is an affiliate hub so its role is to train organizations in the community. It undertook Service Enterprise when Maine piloted the program. Window Dressers will be part of the upcoming winter midcoast cohort for Service Enterprise.  

Commissioners were reminded that the number of qualified trainers needed to be replenished and that was accomplished through the Commission-hosted training done in September. 

There was a question about duplicate counting in the data. Ashmore explained that data from one grantee was not clean so, until it is verified, it is not being included. 

Report on meeting with OIT regarding Basecamp replacement options. Commission staff met with a team from the state Office of Information Technology. After looking through the site, they acknowledged there isn’t something of comparable price with the same functionality. Their office has a project management software built for production environments but its functions don’t align with the Commission uses. Microsoft Teams is only able to make files available. They advised that any project management platform would present the same challenges as basecamp in a high security system and require whitelisting. 

After some discussion, the chair (Branham) asked staff to schedule a demonstration of basecamp at the December meeting.

OIG audit update. Crofton reported the audit has restarted after being told it would wrap by end of September. There are more new OIG staff involved and a new round of requests is expected. The OIG also indicated they are considering adding a third subgrantee for review and that would cause the audit to extend through next March. 

CNCS Update. Ostberg was not able to attend today. It was noted the regional office opening ceremony is scheduled for November 14. Maryalice will attend and a Commission representative would be welcome. The new office is in Concord NH.

Planning and Future Initiatives  
Retreat Action Items. The compiled list of “parking lot” items has been distributed with the agenda. Chair Branham led a review of each and either an update or explanation were provided (as appropriate).

Conflict of Interest. Branham recapped the retreat discussion about what constitutes a conflict of interest and the procedure for making the board aware of a conflict before a vote. It is not enough to abstain from a vote but one must state the nature of the conflict. It was noted that merely knowing a person or organization does not create a conflict or appearance of one. Commissioners had been asked to bring their signed acknowledgements after reading the policies on ethics and conflict of interest. Those present can submit them at the end of the meeting.

Tracking Strategic Plan Progress. Rather than reviewing the status annually at the retreat, action on the plan will be kept visible using a simplified dashboard at meetings. Colored text or other indicator (green/yellow/organge/red) will be used to show the status.

Commissioner Involvement in Grant Task Force. This is a presentation later in this agenda.

Multi-state commission alliances. The issue was described as developing Commissioner-to-Commissioner alliances and connections around issues of common interest. Vermont has been asked and is interested. Maryalice will check with New Hampshire. The June regional conference in Burlington would be a logical opportunity for first meeting.

Volunteer Maine obtaining budget authority and independence. This discussion is being postponed today.

Ten Commission Duties. The federal statute’s delineation of Commission duties and responsibilities was part of the handout posted for the meeting. One addition to the handout was a set of slides from Commissioner orientation that shows the duties repeated in state statute.

Commission compliance with Administrative Procedures Act. On the question about records, it was explained that minutes, correspondence, and a host of records document Commission activities. The minutes of task force meetings as well as business meetings are published in draft on the public website and approved by the Commission. The schedule for archiving and holding records governs what is held. One reason the office is nearly paperless is that electronic records are backed up routinely and held for years by the state.

Annual report filings. On the question of annual report filings, the Commission has three annual reports plus reports to the legislative oversight committee. The three are the Commisson’s portion of the State Annual Resport issued by the State Controller; the annual report to CNCS; and the public relations piece that is used for community information. There may be a fourth added. The Commission has not been on the list of boards required to file a report with the secretary of state but it appears that may have changed.

Branham reviewed the types of meetings on the Administrative Procedures Act summary. The unnecessary commentary about Public Hearings has been struck.

Revisions proposed to strategic plan work for 2020. The update of the work for 2020 related to the Strategic Plan was compiled after the retreat and distributed with the agenda for this meeting. There was high consensus in the work groups regarding items to eliminate and those to move forward. The text is color-coded to indicate treatment of each item: red, eliminate; green, completed; brown, underway; blue, move forward a year.

Members were asked if the compiled document reflected their wishes. The response was affirmative. Moved by Burns to approve the revisions in the work plan. Second by Pellenz. Discussion highlighted the impact Commissioner turnover had on being able to work on the plan this past year. Stabilizing Commission membership and a more stable staff (vacancies filled) should make a difference in the coming year. The changes will be reassessed at the next annual retreat and the dashboard should keep Commissioners more aware of the connection between activities and the plan. Those connections are not always remembered.

Vote on the motion: In favor – 5. Opposed – 0. Abstaining – Phelps, Fiori, L’Italien

Focus on Mission Responsibilities 
Grant Administration and Oversight.  Crofton reviewed the state procurement requirements for grant selection that are woven into the Commission grant review and selection process. Teams of reviewers must consider all proposals submitted. The same criteria must be applied by the team to each proposal. Final scoring must be a consensus process by the team. The final scores determine the order in which funds are awarded. There are a few requirements that AmeriCorps grants are exempt from (official Procurement decision). One example is the points generally awarded for cost. Because the cost per 1700 hours of service is set by the federal agency and other factors are applied under cost effectiveness, there is an exemption to use the federal criteria. As of 2019, State of Maine Procurement only accepts proposals electronically.  

McFaul walked Commissioners through the system used in overseeing grant performance. OnCorps is a platform developed specifically for state service commissions. It is used for reporting and accountability functions related to AmeriCorps and Volunteer Generation. The functions cover AmeriCorps members (time records, position descriptions), supervisors in-kind time records, financial reporting and invoicing, performance measure progress, and other aspects of grant performance. Financial reporting is monthly as is invoicing. Performance reporting is quarterly. 

A question was asked about monitoring site visits. There is a schedule for those. In the first year of a grant, member records and financial systems are reviewed. In years two and three, member records are reviewed but – unless there is a system conversion – financial transactions are tested rather than doing a full system review. 

McFaul noted that as part of quarterly reporting she can produce enrollment, retention, and exit reports from the National Service Trust. Those are factored into the review and feedback around grantee reporting. The staff comments or questions are recorded in Oncorps and, if a report is returned for clarification, the response is also recorded. 

Commissioner involvement in grant selection. This discussion was held over for December due to the time it is expected to need.

Business Wrap Up  
The next meeting is December 20, 2019 -- Rm 110, 19 Elkins Lane, Augusta. New Commissioner Orientation will follow immediately after adjournment. 

Moved to adjourn by Barrett. Second by Burns. Vote on the motion: In favor -- unanimous.

The meeting adjourned at 12:31 pm.