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New Summit DD leader finds agency stands out

1/23/2014 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

John Trunk is settling in to his new job as superintendent of the Summit County Board of Developmental Disabilities.

Photo courtesy of Summit County Board
of Developmental Disabilities

TALLMADGE — John Trunk was perfectly happy serving as superintendent of the Lucas County Board of Developmental Disabilities when he heard that the board in Summit County needed a leader.

“I was very satisfied in Lucas County, and engaged in the job there,” said Trunk, 55, who began as superintendent here Dec. 2. “But the more I thought about Summit County, I realized it had the potential for creating new challenges and new opportunities. It’s had a great reputation — very collaborative, very cutting-edge, very supportive and willing to challenge the status quo of how things are done. I thought, perhaps I could do some things that I hadn’t been able to do.”

So Trunk looked into the position, applied and was announced in October as the Summit County Developmental Disabilities Board’s (Summit DD) new superintendent to replace Thomas Armstrong, who retired at the end of November. The board provides services and supports to ensure those residents with developmental disabilities can experience the full benefits of the community.

Trunk said there are a lot of similarities between Lucas and Summit counties and their DD boards. Both counties have a similar number of residents and the boards serve around the same number of people and have similar staff sizes.

But Trunk said he has already seen in just a few weeks how Summit County’s board stands out from the crowd.

“There’s such a strong focus on collaboration here,” Trunk said. “There’s a clear focus on the community and helping people who need support. There really is a genuine focus on the community’s overall health.”

Born and raised in Chicago, Trunk earned his bachelor’s degree in psychology from Illinois State University and then a master’s degree in rehabilitation administration — which he called similar to an MBA for human services professionals — from DePaul University. He came to Ohio 26 years ago to work for Richland County’s DD board in Mansfield.

“I had been working at a nonprofit in Chicago and I stumbled across [Ohio’s] county systems,” he said. “I didn’t know anything about that model of delivery.”

Because of his master’s degree, he qualified for certification to become a superintendent in Ohio. He got his first job leading a county board about 20 years ago in rural Williams County. After eight years there, he moved on to Lucas County to serve as assistant superintendent and then became superintendent three years later.

Now that he’s in Summit County, Trunk has rolled up his sleeves and begun the task of evaluating the system here.

“One of the priorities is to get out, be visible and talk to people,” he said, noting he has been to all nine of the board’s buildings and trying to get to know staff.

He’s also met with mayors of Tallmadge and Stow and is hoping to meet other elected officials.

One of the projects he’s been happy to implement will see department managers work with staff members in other areas to find out more about the many jobs that employees do as part of the board.

“I want each management person to spend an hour a month with a staff person,” he said. “Our goal is to help each other learn more about what we do.”

Trunk said he inherited a board that is in “financially very good” shape, but he did note it is in deficit spending due to reductions in property tax collections that resulted from depressed home values.

“We anticipate getting through the levy cycle and meeting the criteria the county expects of the board,” Trunk said.

The board currently has about 580 staff members, but that number will be decreasing, in part due to an Early Retirement Incentive Program that around 100 employees are eligible for, Trunk said. Employees were able to take advantage of the program starting Jan. 1, and a few have done so. Some positions will need to be filled, however.

Also, he plans to evaluate the board’s current facilities to determine if programs can be consolidated to lessen the amount of funds being used for leases.

“We are looking at whether or not individuals can be integrated into other places, so in the long term we won’t be as invested in facilities,” he said. “In the end, what works out best for individuals will guide the decisions to be made. Five years from now, we will likely go from nine to fewer buildings.”

The board currently serves around 4,500 residents that span from newborns to senior citizens. Changes in population are one of the trends that DD boards need to prepare for, Trunk said.

Among the issues he is keeping an eye on is the aging DD baby boomer population who are in need of residential services. In addition, the rising incidence of autism also is creating a need for some services, although Trunk noted that not all children diagnosed with autism qualify for services.

Trunk said there are other issues too, such as the incidence of mental illness and addiction in the DD community, something that wasn’t really an issue when he began his career.

Since his arrival in the Akron area, Trunk said he has been welcomed warmly.

“The reception has been tremendous,” he said. “People have been more than accommodating with their time to help me learn who’s who in the county. The job has already exceeded any expectations, and I mean that sincerely.”

Trunk and his wife have four grown children and two grandchildren. Because he wanted to be part of Akron’s city life, he looked for a place to live downtown, but found Highland Square to his liking. For now, Trunk is living there in an apartment and heading back to see his wife in Toledo on weekends until they make more permanent plans.

He added he wants residents to know the board is doing its best to help the DD community, but everyone can contribute.

“We are committed to our mission of helping people with DD live good, quality lives in the community,” Trunk said. “The community can help us to do that by helping people find jobs and accepting people for who they are.”

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