The N.C. House has approved legislation that will transfer oversight of MeckLINK Behavioral Healthcare and its millions of dollars of federal Medicaid funds for mental health services to an authority with an independent board.
However, the Oct. 1 deadline for the transfer of control from Mecklenburg commissioners was extended to Jan. 1, an apparent compromise to Mecklenburg legislators. The legislation passed 108-1.
But Rep. Charles Jeter of Huntersville said Tuesday he hopes the extension would give Mecklenburg time to demonstrate to state officials that converting to an authority wont be necessary.
It is my hope that we can still allow for MeckLINK to be run under the current structure and not move to an authority, Jeter said in a statement. I believe the extension of the current waiver allowed to MeckLINK, gives them the time to dispel any thoughts that an authority is needed and that the status quo is more than acceptable.
If the county cant prove that an authority is merely an added layer of bureaucracy, Jeter said, then MeckLINK would have to convert.
The amendment that passed this is the first step in a multiple-step process to try and ensure that MeckLINK stays within the county, he said.
At their Tuesday meeting, several commissioners expressed frustration, even outrage.
Commissioner Trevor Fuller called the move legislative theft.
We spent our citizens money to create (MeckLINK) at the states insistence, Fuller said. Now after having spent the money, after having created the entity that the state asked us to create, the state believes they should simply take it from us.
Where I come from, thats called stealing.
Fuller said the move is unwise and is frustrated that legislators havent explained why MeckLINK needed to go to an authority.
It would have been nice to know why they thought this would have been a good idea, or even to ask whether we thought it was a good idea, he said.
Board Vice Chairwoman Kim Ratliff said she was concerned for what would happen to MeckLINKs workers.
I want to see MeckLINK stay in this county, I want to see workers hired stay in the county and I want to see the money stay in Mecklenburg County, Ratliff said.
No stopping the bill
Commissioners and county lobbyists have urged legislators to defeat the amendment sponsored by Rep. Nelson Dollar, who has said he wants all Managed-Care Organizations to be uniformly governed. MeckLINK is the states only MCO run by a county and not an authority.
But there was no stopping the bill. Many Mecklenburg commissioners urged staff to continue to fight the transfer.
I dont think were going to give up, said commissioner Dumont Clarke. We have been fighting it, but you can see where that got us. It looks like theyre going to have their way.
Brian Francis, the county legislative liaison, said theres probably likely not much the county can do.
When a bill passes 108-1, your options are few, Francis said.
He said the county is still unclear what needs to happen by Jan. 1, and what MeckLINK will need to do to operate apart from the county.
We are still trying to get a grip around the implications, Francis said.
The language to reassign MeckLINKs control was quietly added to a Senate bill last week and the House vote appeared to be on a fast track. A vote was initially set for last week. But after county commissioners unanimously voted their opposition, Mecklenburg legislators got the vote pushed back to Monday.
Its approval came after two previous attempts to remove MeckLINK from county control.
Last year, Dollar made a similar move but pulled it at Mecklenburgs urging.
In January, the acting N.C. Health and Human Services secretary tried to transfer control of MeckLINK to an out-of-county agency. Mecklenburg hired former commissioner and Charlotte lawyer Dan Bishop, who warded off the attempt.
Now, after a concurrence vote by the Senate likely later this week, and a signature by Gov. Pat McCrory, an authority will likely be assembled to govern MeckLINK unless Jeter successfully intervenes.
Its frustrating to continually have to fight to keep something local that we feel were hitting all the wickets, commissioner Matthew Ridenhour said.
They have to pay for it
Commissioners are puzzled by the states motivations to take MeckLINKs control from the county.
Mecklenburg has spent several million dollars to get MeckLINK operating.
If control is taken away, commissioners Ridenhour and Bill James want the state to reimburse the county.
I think its OK if the legislature decides they want to take it, but they have to pay for it, James said. I dont think the county should be signing documents over to the authority unless somebody writes us a check.
Clarke said the takeover is another example of state legislators diluting local government.
Nothing in this Republican legislature is a surprise, he said. If they want to take away responsibilities of local governments and consolidate them in Raleigh, they ought to just do it. Doing it piecemeal is not the way to go.
Reporter Jim Morrill contributed.
The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.
Have a news tip? You can send it to a local news editor; email email@example.com to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Charlotte Observer.Read moreRead less