VPAS Issues Surfaces at Supervisors Meeting

“Supposedly, Jim Bennett put that fire out, but then as far as I’m concerned, he immediately lit another one.”

Those were the words of Lee Taplinger, acting chair of the local council for senior services in Highland County. His comments were made during the Highland County Board of Supervisors September 17th work session, in an update to the Board on current issues with VPAS, the Valley Program for Aging Services, and their board chair Jim Bennett.

Indications of problems between VPAS and the local council had come to light at the supervisors’ regular meeting on September 2nd. County Attorney Melissa Dowd had relayed to the Board, at Taplinger’s request, that former VPAS CEO Paul Lavigne had been terminated and that there were concerns about whether funds raised by the local council would be used in other areas. The Board took no action that night, but requested that the local council come to the work session to provide more information. Highland County currently supports VPAS efforts with $35,000 per year, paid in quarterly installments

In the interim, a meeting occurred between VPAS board members and the local council. Taplinger reported that it was long, and sometimes contentious meeting, but that all had come to an agreement that they were working for the greater good of seniors in Highland County, and that the funds in question would be used locally. Mr. Taplinger also made Mr. Bennett aware that the local council had nominated him to represent Highland on the VPAS board, since current representative Tim Duff was unable to attend meetings. He reported Mr. Bennett had agreed to facilitate this.

Subsequently, however, Taplinger received an e-mail from Bennett saying he felt that since Taplinger had contacted county attorney Dowd that he questioned his capability to serve on the Board. Taplinger acknowledged that Bennett likely misunderstood Ms. Dowd’s role, since he referred to her as Commonwealth’s Attorney versus county attorney in his correspondence, but that he was still troubled by the nomination process, especially since Bennett had then contacted council treasurer Troy Baxley, asking him to serve on the board despite not being nominated by either the local council or the board of supervisors.

Mr. Taplinger noted that the local council did not have a copy of the VPAS by-laws, but recommended that one be obtained to facilitate further relationships between the county and the organization.

“As chair of this council, my recommendation is, we do not right any more checks to them until we have a copy of those by-laws – we do not do any more fundraising for them until we have those by-laws – when I say we write a check for $35,000, the Board of Supervisors do that, and I say “we” because I’m a taxpayer.”

Board chair Kevin Wagner told Mr. Taplinger that no action could be taken until the VPAS by-laws were studied  and requested Ms. Dowd to obtain a copy for review.

In other business during the meeting, the board:

–    tentatively approved a request from the Highland Tourism Council to install signage on county property, contingent on further design and placement study

–    heard and update on the Rescue Squad incentive program

–    approved a recommendation from county administrator Roberta Lambert on retirement benefit changes

–    approved the beginnings of hiring negotiations with a firm to update zoning and subdivision ordinances

–    and instructed Lambert to draft language for a recommendation to the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries during their open comment period on new game laws to create an additional bear hunting season.

The meeting ended with a closed session to discuss legal matters.

Story By

Scott Smith

Scott Smith is the General Manager for Allegheny Mountain Radio and Station Coordinator and News Reporter for WVLS. Scott’s family has deep roots in Highland County. While he did not grow up here, he spent as much time as possible on the family farm, and eventually moved to Highland to continue the tradition, which he still pursues with his cousin. Unfortunately, farming doesn’t pay all the bills, so he has previously taken other jobs to support his farming hobby, including pressman/writer for The Recorder, and Ag Projects Coordinator for The Highland Center. He lives in Hightown with wife Michelle and son Ethan. In his spare time, he wishes he had more spare time, especially to ride his prized Harley-Davidson motorcycle. scott@amrmail.org

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