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Commission Minutes

May 17, 2019


Present: Celeste Branham, Ed Barrett, David Burns, Peter Doak, Elizabeth Hite, John Portela, Joe Schmidt, Maria Staples, Jenifer Tilton-Flood, Nicole Pellenz. 

Commission met in room 110 at 19 Elkins Lane, Augusta.

Public Comment: The Maine Partners for Environmental Stewardship program coordinator, Solange Carpenter, indicated she was happy to be here to learn more about the role of the Commission.  The Chief of Staff for the Department of Education Commission, Jessica Nixon, was introduced. Ms. Nixon indicated she was happy to be here; excited to get up to speed on the work that is being done.

The meeting was called to order at 10:15am by Commission Chair, Celeste Branham.  After Introductions, it was announced that Barrett answered the Quiz.  AmeriCorps Education Award is presently tied to the Pell Grant with a value of just under $7K.  The legislation referenced in the quiz would, among other things, change how education award is valued.  One year of service would qualify someone for an education award equal to two years of tuition at a public university. Another thing proposed in the bill is creation of a companion foundation for CNCS – similar to what Maine and a number of states have done. 

Announcements:  The AmeriCorps Formula Request for Proposals are open.  Funds are from grants that did not continue. The Commission agenda in June will include deciding on new awards and action on seven continuation grants.

Agenda Approval. There were no additions, deletions, or changes to the agenda.  Moved by Pellenz to approve the agenda. Second by Portela. Vote on the motion: In favor - unanimous.

Consent Agenda. The consent agenda was approved.  It covered minutes for the April 19, 2019 Commission meeting,  Executive Committee meeting on May 7, 2019, and Communications Task Force meeting on May 8, 2019.

Financial Oversight. David Burns distributed a prototype of a scorecard graphic the task force proposes to use as a way to keep Commissioners informed on finances. Commission members were asked to review it and be prepared to give feedback at the June meeting. Once the prototype is refined it will be used with all the Commission operating grants.

National Public Policy Issues. Crofton reported on briefing by America’s Service Commissions. At federal level, the House is moving forward on appropriations mark ups even though a budget deal (what spending caps to have) has not been reached. The Labor H* committee acted on the bill that includes CNCS and the results were favorable. Senior Corps budget line increased to cover 2009 stipend rates that have never been enacted. There is some growth in AmeriCorps and other items are funded at 2018 levels. Senate markup is expected early June because the budget caps are reportedly going to be attached to disaster supplemental.

Portella reported on the congressional office visits with Senator King and Congressman Golden that went very well.  Congresswoman Pingree and Senator Collins were unavailable at the time.  However, Congresswoman Pingree is interested, just need to set up a time and place that will work with her schedule. Senator Collins’ scheduler is looking at a July option.

*Labor H is shorthand for the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies

Commission State Funding. Jessica Nixon was asked to give an update on the state budget which has a General Fund request from the Commission.  She said Appropriations is still working through items with a goal to have a budget finalized by June 22nd or 23rd.

Focus on Mission Responsibilities: The Corporation for National and Community Service Transformation Plan  
The reorganization will have a significant impact on Commissions, both in grant administration and working relationships with key CNCS staff. Kaira Esgate, American Service Commission (ASC) Executive Director, was asked to brief the Commission. She is attending virtually. (Presentation linked here.)

After introducations, Esgate walked Commissioners through the background. The impetus for the reorganization was a March 2017 Executive Order by President Trump issues directing all federal agencies to review and streamline operations. Most federal agencies responded by Fall 2017. The CNCS plan was drafted by interim leaders and presented to the new administration’s appointee, Barbara Stewart, in 2018 when she took charge of CNCS. The CNCS draft plan was shared with the public in June 2018 and there were opportunities for feedback through September 2018. The final plan was shared in November 2018 and implementation is underway. 

Among the six goals are several related to CNCS operation. The structural reorganization consolidates operations into 8 regional offices – down from 46 field offices. The new regions will assume responsibility for all grants eliminating the DC-centered single office that states deal with and distributing the duties to portfolio managers in the 8 offices. This change is already underway now and all field staff will be telecommuting by summer. The field office staff positions are new so current employees must apply for one of the positions if they wish to stay with the agency. Regional Offices will open in September 2019, February 2020, and in June 2020.

Last summer an ASC work group that included Maryalice, developed the response from state commissions. The results were presented as testimony at one of the public listening sessions. The State Commissions had five critical points:

  • State commissions play a critical role in the national service delivery system
  • As statutory partners with an advisory role to the CNCS CEO, state commissions should be included in policy and program development
  • The impact of changes in CNCS policies and practices should also be determined for state commissions and programs (state and national direct)
  • Changes should simplify and streamline efforts and not create additional burden for commissions and programs
  • Do no harm – given the current political climate, ensure that changes strengthen CNCS and national service and do not put the agency and its programs in a more precarious position

This reorganization is going very fast. ASC requested there be no new major policy or system changes or roll-outs until CNCS staffing structure is in place. Also requested (based on statutorily described roles) that Commission and program representatives be immediately and genuinely engaged in CNCS implementation working groups. There hasn’t been a commitment to that. 

There are serious implications for Commissions:

  • Portfolio Managers will be positioned in regional offices rather than D.C.-based. Transition from Program Officer and Grants Officer structure to Portfolio Manager in regional offices means federal staff will not have experience with AmeriCorps, Volunteer Generation fund, Commission Support Grants, training funds, and more.
  • Role of ex-officio member on commission unclear
  • Increased Commission role as information and referral source for interested parties for VISTA and Senior Corps resources
  • Compliance efforts will be based in DC
  • Anticipated staff transitions may have an impact on support to commissions. Already 2/3 of staff in AmeriCorps DC office have left for other positions. The institutional knowledge loss is likely to impact training for new staff/roles
  • Technology upgrades will be valuable to state commissions and their programs, but are likely 18-24 months out.

Key Members of Congress (e.g., chair of CNCS appropriation committee) are very concerned. At this time, unclear how congressional concerns expressed about the plan will impact its progress moving forward.

The formal presentation ended and was opened for questions from Commissioners. Commission officers posed questions about continuity of service during the transition, maintaining institutional knowledge, and whether the new staffing arrangement represented a reduction in employees. Many aspects of the plan and changes underway are not fully developed so it isn’t possible to answer many questions. Even the new office of compliance does not have a clear mission. It was noted that there will be a meeting with CNCS senior staff and the New England Commission representatives next week at the regional conference. Jenifer Tilton-Flood will attend with Maryalice. Tilton-Flood indicated she is interested to find out if there are indicators of success or benchmarks that will be used to determine if the plan is achieving its goals.

CNCS update. Libby Hite reported a site visit between Goodwill and Congressman Golden went well.  Senator Collins produced a video in support of the Elderly. The UMaine Center on Aging director of Senior Companions will be transitioning to a different role. She accepted a position with Catholic Charities to head their new RSVP program.

Maine Service Fellows. The task force met yesterday. One member sits on the Maine Volunteer Foundation as well and he reported on the reaction of philanthropic entities who were approached to help fund the program. Giving in Maine is problem-focused so funders want to know what problem the Fellows will work on. After a lengthy discussion, the task force is asking the commission to change the intent slightly for the sake of getting a pilot underway. The foundation believes that having a specific focus area will lead to a pilot program. The task force recommends the focus be on aging-in-place. Moved by Branham to set aging-in-place as the focus for Maine Service Fellows. Seconded, Barrett. Vote on motion: In favor – unanimous.

Communications Task Force.  Tilton-Flood noted the task force has been working with Pulse Marketing and there are two final options for a new logo. The options were presented for Commission consideration and selection of the final one. Discussion followed among Commission members and public visitors were asked to weigh in.  After much discussion, the agreement was that the Pine Tree Flag would be the new logo/emblem as the Star was too much like other business logos and would not stand out as unique.

It was noted that transitioning everything to the new logo will take at least a year due to the cost. Branham explained there will be a soft rollout at first by placing it on the invitations for the October 11th Gala, leading to a larger announcement at the Gala.

MCCS Staff Report: The Maine Volunteer Leadership Conference, formerly known as the Blaine House Conference on Service and Volunteerism is a signature public event for the Commission. The planning committee is very small this year. There is concern the event no longer has a connection to Commission members so the significance of this conference may be lost to the board.  It will be on October 15 and the key note speaker has been secured.

Professional Development Fund has been reactivated. This supports very specific needs of volunteer managers and National Service staff. Applications are open now for education and training to occur over the next year.  

Branham reminded Commissioners the next meeting will be June 21, 2019 in Room 110, MCCS Offices. There being no other business Moved by Portela to adjourn. Second by Tilton-Flood. Vote on motion: In favor – unanimous. The meeting adjourned at 12:03pm.