The Virginia Association of Local Human Services Officials ... A Brief History
In the late 1980s a small group of local government officials recognized the value of shared knowledge. These officials were Deputy or Assistant County Administrators or functional equivalents with slightly differing titles. Within their jurisdiction each official had broad responsibilities for human service agencies and departments ranging from Health, Behavioral Health, Social Services, Housing, Juvenile Justice through Libraries, Tourism and Parks and Recreation.
This group generally knew one another and arranged to meet in various localities for lunch and conversation. The numbers grew and the gatherings became more frequent. It was apparent quite early that while there might be differences in budget or size or operations from rural to urban, from small to large localities, there was also much communality of concern. And the value of shared information and shared advocacy on issues important to the citizens of the Commonwealth was obvious to everyone.
This casual association was formalized in 1989 as the Virginia Association of Local Human Services Officials (VALHSO) with the adoption of Bylaws, the election of the first President - James Ritchie, Roanoke Deputy City Manager, rules of procedures and a conference held in York County. The organization was subsequently incorporated under the Code of Virginia. All localities in Virginia were invited to have membership and representation.
Initially eligibility for membership was for the senior local government official with broad responsibility for multiple agencies and departments delivering services to the community. Each appointment was by name and made solely by the County Administrator or the City Manager. In some instances, particularly with smaller jurisdictions, that official might be the County Administrator or the Director of Social Services.
Additional categories of membership were subsequently added. Special membership with a single, voting representative from each was offered to the Virginia Association of Counties (VACO) and to the Virginia Municipal League (VML). In the interests of professional and leadership development Associate membership is made available to any local government employee named by the full member of VALHSO. The locality continues to have a single vote cast by the full Member. Most recently a Heritage category was added that allows retiring members to remain actively engaged in the work of the organization. Although non-profit agencies and Commonwealth Departments are not eligible for membership, the “Friends of VALHSO” category comprises vital and collegial partners.
VALHSO has a standing Legislative Committee and names ad hoc committees as appropriate. There are typically two main events annually - a Fall Conference and a Winter Legislative Meeting. Various regional meetings, work groups and subject specific meetings occur throughout the year. Electronic communications to the membership occurs regularly through a cloud platform provided by the University of Virginia.
The organization’s priorities include peer support and leadership development. Various members have become County Administrators and City Managers within Virginia and in other states.
Over the years since inception VALHSO has partnered with state agencies, advocated for legislation, served on state work groups, advised Secretaries and legislators and their staffs. At the request of the Senate Finance and House Appropriations prepared a detailed “Human Services Briefing Book”. And in various ways VALHSO has served to affect public policy on behalf of the Commonwealth’s fragile populations.