Waccamaw Economic Opportunity Council takes refresher courses

If the board of the Waccamaw Economic Opportunity Council is going to discuss strategic goals during its three-day retreat at the Litchfield Beach and Golf Resort, it will have another chance during the hour set aside for it during today's sessions.

Board members skipped the hour of Thursday's meeting scheduled for strategic planning, choosing instead to adjourn for the day, after more than eight hours.

"It's been a long day," board chairman Zacharius Grate said after he declared theproceedings over for the day.

The retreat continues today and Saturday morning. Another hour for a board discussion on strategic planning is on the agenda for today. Saturday is designated for committee meetings, according to the agenda.

The purpose of the retreat, agency human resources director Sharon Boyd said in opening the retreat Wednesday evening, is for board members to set the EOC's strategic goals for this year.

Board members were scheduled Thursday morning for a three-hour webinar from CAPLAW, Community Action Program Legal Services Inc., designed to help community action agencies operate legally sound organizations.

It is not known if the webinar included information on legal executive sessions, an area in which the Waccamaw EOC has been challenged.

The board has held a number of closed sessions since last spring in which board members said later that things were discussed that wouldn't be legal under the state open meetings law.

Thursday's afternoon session started a half-hour late and consisted of presentations on the workings of the agency's finance, weatherization and Community Services Block Grant functions.

Janice Wideman, finance director, told directors that the agency has for the last two years been handling twice the money it had before because of federal stimulus funds. The agency's budget has ballooned from $7 million a year to $15 million annually from federal grants to help low-income residents of Horry, Georgetown and Williamsburg counties.

Wideman said that stimulus funding will be available into next year.

Wideman and Emily Cooper, the agency's block grant director, said when asked that they could use more staff to help them meet the challenges of their jobs.

"So many people need help," Cooper said, "the staff is stressed to the max."

Board members expressed concern with sending unspent money for staff back to the federal agencies it came from and with establishing and dealing with waiting lists to assist clients who couldn't get help the first time they applied.

Grate and board member David Eagleton, the board's first vice chairman, said they would like to see unspent staff funds used to pay employees overtime for things such as opening EOC offices on Saturdays.