Special-needs children at center of dispute

Saturday, August 8, 1998

BY KYM LIEBLER
The Cincinnati Enquirer

LEBANON -- Ohio Rep. George Terwilliger abruptly canceled a Friday morning meeting with parents of special-needs children when the superintendent of the agency that serves the children showed up with dozens of her staff members.

Mr. Terwilliger, R-Maineville, said he set up the 10 a.m. meeting with Jerry Manuel, director of Ohio Department of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, two parents and three others to talk informally about the Warren County MRDD.

The meeting was scrapped when Charlotte Marinacci, superintendent of Warren County MRDD, and a group of 50 people demanded to be allowed in the meeting.

"She came in like a moose in a china shop with all her staff," Mr. Terwilliger said. "I had scheduled a private meeting. It is not uncommon for me to meet with people who have complaints. Until I know if the alleged complaints are valid, why should I involve other people in it?"

Because, countered Mrs. Marinacci, it involves her agency. "If you were the county superintendent and you were shut out of a meeting that directly involves your agency, wouldn't that bother you?"

Mr. Terwilliger said he plans to meet soon with the parents one-on-one. Amy Tepe Dolan, one of the parents invited to the meeting, said her primary grievance with the Warren County MRDD is its policy of not allowing parents to speak to the seven-member Warren County Board of Mental Retardation at its meetings.

Mrs. Dolan, whose daughter receives MRDD services, said parents can address the board only if Mrs. Marinacci approves it.

"They don't make families feel welcome," said Mrs. Dolan, of Springboro. "We are not approached or worked with in a family-friendly manner."

Mrs. Marinacci said MRDD's board policy requires parents first to take their concerns to a staff person. From there, the parent can appeal to highers-up in the agency until they reach the board. "We have an open-door policy," she said. "This policy allows for more organized, structured board meetings. Before I got here, the meetings would last four hours."

Mrs. Marinacci became superintendent of the MRDD in June 1996. The agency handles a $10 million annual budget and serves more than 500 Warren County families.

Although the scheduled meeting did not occur, Mr. Manuel met with Mrs. Marinacci, staffers and some parents Friday afternoon. He acknowledged that concerns exist about access, communication and the philosophy of Warren County MRDD. But, Mr. Manuel added, Friday's events did not brand it as a "bad" agency.



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