The problems and needs of youth, the handicapped and ethnic minorities were outlined at a public hearing last week as the Montgomery County Council continued hearings on proposals to best serve their needs.
The hearing was one of several meetings held since December to explore the group's problems. It was primarily set up to solicit citizen views on two pieces of legislation that would establish an advisory council to coordinate programs for youth and families.
The hearing also drew spokesmen for the handicapped and minorities who discussed how best to spend $400,000, a sum the county set aside in its new fiscal budget for financing a staff to deal with the problems facing these groups.
At least part of the $400,000 would pay staff costs for coordinating all county programs for youth and families under an advisory council. Two proposals are being considered by the council. The first, sponsored by County Executive James P. Gleason, would set up the office under the director of the Office of Family Resouraces - Gleason's proposed successor to the current county Office of Human Resources. The other, designed by council President Elizabeth Scull, would establish an independent commission on children and youth directly responsible to the executive and the council.
Through the debate over what type of commission on youth would be most effective, each of the various groups vied for particular attention to its own problems.
"It must have the freedom to establish its own authority and its own chairperson," said Richad Pavlin, from Family Services, a private youth and family counseling service. "The initial membership will be crucial to its success."
"We would like to see people with professional training involved," said Harry Whiting from the National Association of the Deaf.
"What we need is a mechanism for the handicapped," said Jeanne Novotny, from the Society for Autistic Children. "Can (the agency) find a lawyer to represent us at little or no cost, for instance?"
"The first problem is who's handicapped," said one handicapped speaker who testified. "The disabled are the most heterogeneous group. The only thing in common they have is some type of disability. We also need a vehicle for providing input from handicapped, whether it's a commission or an office."
"I believe the commission should be a watchdog," said Nancy Mauzy, a victim of cerebral palsy. "I grew up without many support services now available. The need for information about services is imperative."
Mary Drury, the executive director of the Drug Action Coalition, said her organizaion wanted to see a commission that reported directly to the council and the executive. Marilyn Lev, representing the Montgomery County Educators Association, agreed, adding that "some of the members of the commission should represent teachers and parents."
A separate commission such as Scull has proposed, testified the Rev. Paul Mericle of the American Red Cross Youth Services, "would not be buried in a department . . . The commission would be semi-autonomous, not subject to political pressure, not part of the executive branch under the control of the executive."
Elvira Williams, representing The Committee, an action group involved mainly with minority issues, said blacks and Hispanos must be included on any commission that evolved. "Minorities are systematically eliminated from policy making," said Williams. "Yet many blacks give tremendous amounts of time to civic activities . . . Many blacks are among those with mental, physical and social handicaps."
When County Executive James P. Gleason testified on the two bills, he told the council a separate commission, responsible to the council and executive, simply extended the span of the executive's administration, already too broad. "The last thing the executive needs is another independent office," Gleason said.
The council will hold a work session on the two bills on June 12.