Longtime Butler County social services executive leaves lasting legacy: How he changed his department

Butler County Job and Family Services Executive Director Bill Morrison will retired May 7 leaving a legacy of innovation and positive change. GREG LYNCH / STAFF
Butler County Job and Family Services Executive Director Bill Morrison will retired May 7 leaving a legacy of innovation and positive change. GREG LYNCH / STAFF

Butler County Job and Family Services Executive Director Bill Morrison is leaving a legacy of dedication to ensuring children are safe and the less fortunate do not just receive “a hand out but a hand up” to better their lives, officials in the county said.

As executive director, Morrison, who will retire this week, was responsible for about 350 employees in Children Services; JFS, which manages public assistance; OhioMeansJobs and the Child Support Enforcement Agency.

Commissioner T.C. Rogers said Morrison is leaving one of the county’s largest operations in a strong position.

“We truly appreciate his foresight and initiative to make a better system for Butler County,” Rogers said. “He’s been a major force and we recognize that, he’s set a standard that those behind him are going to have to follow.”

Morrison has been grooming Children Services Director Julie Gilbert to succeed him as JFS executive director, and JFS Assistant Director Shannon Glendon is expected to take over Children Services. The pair have been named the interim leaders. The commissioners posted the executive director position and have received 38 applications.

“He reaffirmed our commitment to our mission, he expanded our strategies and our programming to allowed us to serve more individuals, leveraging federal dollars in such a way to enhance our programs,” Gilbert said.

“He also developed our leadership, he is someone who created an environment where sharing ideas, building relationships and collaborating with one another were encouraged.”

Morrison has worn many hats in the county’s social service world, taking his first job as a family team leader in 2005. He was appointed ombudsman in 2006 before later serving as assistant director, and he was elevated to Children Services director in 2015. A series of events catapulted him to the top of the entire agency in July 2017.

ExploreBig changes coming to Butler County social services agencies after retirement

It hasn’t been an easy job. Children Services went through a painful and protracted union dispute that included a 14-day social worker strike in 2014. At the same time the agency was dealing with a $4 million budget hole and a complete overhaul of the way they did business.

The public assistance side has also had it’s share of angst, with state evaluations that put the agency at risk of falling below standards and needing a continuing improvement plan before Morrison took the helm. The last state management review showed the work samples that were audited were completely error-free.

Morrison, who had little experience with the public assistance side of the operation, overhauled and streamlined those systems too. He also instituted “wraparound” programs so, for example, someone who is receiving food stamps can be connected to other services.

Morrison spent his entire career — he retired from Kentucky’s state-run child welfare system prior to coming here — in the Children Services realm. Former County Administrator Charlie Young, who recommended the commissioners promote Morrison, said Morrison had already demonstrated his passion and expertise in arguably one of the most critical county government functions, which is to keep kids safe. His leadership skills transferred to the other areas of social service as well, he said.

“What was wonderful is he had a great ability to listen to staff in areas where he did not have tremendous personal experience, and help those staff, often very talented staff, work through their issues and come up with solutions, many of them very innovative, in areas where Bill himself may not have innovation,” Young said.

During his tenure Morrison has instituted or reinstituted several programs, like the Family Preservation Program. It used to be handled in-house but was shut down due to budget cuts. By outsourcing the program, Morrison was able to use Medicaid dollars to help pay for it. He also outsourced the family visitation program, making them therapeutic meetings between kids and their families, so Medicaid could be tapped.

When the heroin epidemic gripped the country several years ago and in-custody BCCS numbers jumped to more than 500, Morrison and Juvenile Court Administrator Rob Clevenger jumpstarted the defunct Family Drug Treatment Court.

“In my mind it’s a legacy of collaboration,” Morrison said. “In all those changes that I made that I get 99% of the credit for, there were always other people that were intricately involved, they probably had more to do with the success of those programs that I really did.”

Glendon said Morrison assured programs, policies and procedures he started or restarted could last past his employment.

“The greatest lesson that many of us have learned from Bill is that what matters most in your career is the impact you make on the people you leave behind, so invest in them,” Glendon said. “It’s why he will have a lasting impact in this community, he has developed a lot of different programs, he has given us a vision but it was really all the people he invested in that has allowed us to carry that vision forward everyday.”

Commissioner Don Dixon said Morrison has done “the best job of retiring” and leaving the agency in top-notch shape because “Bill’s strong point is being able to look at the administrative side of it and he’s a great judge of character and potential and skill sets.”

Morrison said because he had the financial security of his Kentucky pension it allowed him to “take everything you learn in the first career and apply it boldly” and the commissioners have supported him every step of the way when he introduced new ideas.

“That’s pretty remarkable that three county commissioners would just go along with that and would accept my leadership and believe that if I was saying it’s okay, it’s probably okay,” Morrison said. “I doubt there are very many JFS directors that have enjoyed the level of support I have.”

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