OGDEN — Weber County officials are creating a new high-level post, reshaping the approach to fighting intergenerational poverty, a standing priority.
The new official, according to the description for the job, would answer to Weber County commissioners and the executive directors of the Weber-Morgan Health Department and Weber Human Services, both publicly funded.
Commissioners last year contracted with a private consultant, LSI Business Development of Layton, to help spearhead efforts to fight poverty and aid the poorest in Weber County. The future of that arrangement, which renewed the simmering debate over use of private consultants by Weber County government when it came up for consideration, is up in the air.
“We’ve got to figure all that out,” said Commissioner Scott Jenkins.
Unless LSI comes up with a dramatically different plan of action, though, Commissioner Gage Froerer expects the new official, yet to be hired, will take over the responsibilities LSI had handled.
A different slate of commissioners approved the $60,000, one-year contract with LSI on May 15, 2018, renewable for two year-long terms subject to commissioner review. But Froerer, elected last November, had singled out use of private consultants by county government for criticism in campaigning for his commission seat, decrying the cost and what he said were the limited results they provided.
Melissa Freigang, an LSI vice president, is aware of the job posting and said she knows LSI’s arrangement with Weber County is up for review. But she’s not aware of specifics of the internal county deliberations.
Fighting intergenerational poverty has been a priority for Weber County commissioners dating to at least 2016. Around 10 percent of Weber County kids are living in intergenerational poverty — poverty that extends across generational lines within individual families, according to data from the Utah Department of Workforce Services, or DWS. Another 24 percent of kids here are at risk of staying in poverty as adults.
The county initially contracted with a series of private entities and consultants to help in addressing economic and social issues, including Sandy-based PTM Strategies, Michael Lindenmayer and Domenica Watkins. The county had previously contracted with LSI as well, even before the 2018 accord, and also formed a pair of groups made of volunteers from the community for help, the Weber County Welfare Reform Commission and the Intergenerational Poverty Advisory Committee.
Now, the county appears to be going in a different direction — creating a new employee at the division director level to oversee efforts in countering intergenerational poverty, in conjunction with existing social service agencies. More generally, the official would also be tasked with promoting collaboration among existing groups in fighting substance abuse, homelessness and more.
Addressing the varied social ills is “not just one agency’s problem,” said Brian Bennion, executive director of the Weber-Morgan Health Department.
A potential candidate to take on the job has been identified though a deal has yet to be finalized, according to Bennion. He envisions the new official aiding in implementation of a program unveiled last year to help 35 Ogden families mired in intergenerational poverty, called Integrated Community Action Now or I-CAN. The county received a $150,000 DWS grant in 2018 to launch the effort.
Froerer said many agencies in Weber County are already doing great work in addressing the various issues related to poverty. The new official, as he sees it, will help coordinate those varied efforts and foster communication between the agencies to increase their effectiveness and reduce duplicity.
Moreover, the new official could help in lobbying for state funding from the Utah Legislature. When several agency heads approach lawmakers for funding, it can be easier for them to say no, Froerer said. By contrast, they may be more inclined to respond favorably to a unified request for Weber County coming from a single individual representing the varied organizations.
Kevin Eastman, executive director of Weber Human Services, which provides mental health and substance abuse counseling services, said the official will oversee an entity that’s tentatively being called the Prosperity Center of Excellence. He envisions the office as a location where information can be distributed on a range of services.
Ultimately, Bennion hopes the new post can be self-sustaining via public and private grants.