Commission Minutes

Public Comment : None.

Present: Ed Barrett, F. Celeste Branham (remote), Susan Cheesman (remote), Gary Dugal, Julia Fiori (remote), Chelsey Fortin-Trimble, William Guidon (remote), Becky Hayes-Boober, Diane Lebson (remote), Janet May, Robert Meinders, Jeff McCabe (remote), Thomas Meuser (remote), Pamela Proulx-Curry (remote), Luke Shorty, Jenifer Tilton-Flood, Susan Wiggin.

Guests: John Portela, Maine Volunteer Foundation. 

Call to Order: Chair Shorty called the meeting to order at 10:07 a.m.

Welcome, Announcements, Agenda Adjustments: September’s quiz answer: since Commissioners have contacts and experience, they can provide advice and assistance to a program on occasion in addition to fostering cooperation between agencies. Shorty informed the Commissioners that they can recuse themselves as necessary at any point in a meeting if a potential conflict of interest arises. He also reminded everyone of the upcoming board retreat on October 19th, 2023 in Skowhegan. Commissioners have been invited to complete an assessment of their board in a nationwide survey created by ASC. The survey is required for executive committee but optional for other board members. Executive Director Maryalice Crofton announced that the Maine Forest Service and the Maine Conservation Corps secured $1,500,000 from the U.S. Forest Service to fund Maine Climate Corps positions focused on community forestry. Climate Corps Coordinator Kirsten Brewer introduced the partners and helped propose the service model.

There were no additions or deletions to the consent agenda.

Consent Agenda: MOVED by Hayes-Boober to approve the consent agenda. SECONDED by Branham.

Vote on the motion:   In favor–Barrett, Branham, Cheesman, Dugal, Fiori, Fortin-Trimble, Guidon, Hayes-Boober, Lebson, May, Meinders, Meuser, Proulx-Curry, Shorty, Tilton-Flood, Wiggin. Opposed–none. Abstention–McCabe. Motion passed.

Items approved by the motion: the Commission meeting minutes for June 16, 2023; the reports of the Executive Committee meetings for July 11, 2023, August 1, 2023, and September 5, 2023; the reports of the Climate Corps Task Force meetings for July 19, 2023 and August 16, 2023; the report of the Excellence and Expertise Task force meeting for August 17, 2023; the reports of the Grant Selection and Performance Task Force for July 14, 2023, August 11, 2023, and September 8, 2023; the reports of the Maine Service Fellows Advisory Committee for July 18, 2023 and August 15, 2023; the report of the Public Policy Task Force for July 26, 2023.

Planning and Future Initiatives  
A.    Maine Volunteer Foundation update
(Portela): Though fundraising has been a challenge, the board is working to improve fundraising capacity and outreach while contacting communities that have specifically said that they want a Maine Service Fellow. Supplying Service Fellows will require additional fundraising. MVF will soon be sending out letters requesting donations. He noted that the board is eager to recruit people to fill its four open seats; he encouraged Commissioners to think about net worth and connections necessary to raise substantial funds if they want to assist with recruiting relevant individuals. For example, the last MVF president successfully reached out to CMP for $40,000. He presented a new memorandum of understanding between the Maine Volunteer Foundation and Volunteer Maine to the Commissioners that emphasized a new commitment to soliciting major donors.

MOVED by Duggal and SECONDED by Wiggin to accept the memorandum of understanding between the Commission and the Maine Volunteer Foundation.
In favor–Barrett, Branham, Cheesman, Dugal, Fiori, Fortin-Trimble, Guidon, Hayes-Boober, Lebson, May, McCabe, Meinders, Meuser, Proulx-Curry, Shorty, Tilton-Flood, Wiggin. Opposed–none. Motion passed.

B.    Commission Ambassadors to Maine National Service programs (Board members): Lebson recently met with staff and members at Trekkers AmeriCorps Mentor Project. She noted that some Trekkers staff found the Commission’s BaseCamp project management system to be difficult at times and the volume of emails a bit much.

C. Adoption of Commission business meeting schedule for 2023-2024 3rd Fridays at 10:00 a.m. on these dates–October 20, December 15, February 16 OR March 15, April 19, May 17, June 21 (Shorty): There was consensus on the proposed slate of meeting dates.

D. Full board briefing on Transition Task Force work and learning (Shorty): The task force members represent the Commission, Dept of Education, and Secretary of State. Thenera Bailey of SISGI is working with members on the study. There are 4 aspects to consider so each meeting examines one or more of these: 

  1. Transition Committee Plan and Support: Research and development on how other state service commissions operate and the pros and cons regarding their operational structure and who they report to.
  2.  Secretary of State Office and Department of Education Operational Overview: Conversations and listening sessions with key staff from the Secretary of States Office and the Maine Department of Education on operating processes, differences, advantages or disadvantages of a transition and what resources would be needed for a successful transition.
  3. Executive Transition and Succession Planning: Internal analysis on Volunteer Maine needs to successfully transition to new leadership.
  4. Sustainability Audit: identify and address organizational and leadership vulnerabilities to ensure organizational sustainability.

Since convening in February 2023, the transition task force has collected information across the Nation on how other commissions operate under different governance structures. They have done an internal analysis of staff needs and usage of time and are producing a report that will inform Volunteer Maine and task force about the next steps for Volunteer Maine’s continued success in the future. 

What to expect:   
1.    Recommendation to transition from the Department of Education to the Secretary of State’s Office. Will include the rationale and methodology as to how we arrived at this conclusion versus going on our own or staying with the Department of Education. It will also include the information on resource needs and challenges in making this transition so that Volunteer Maine can be informed on the skills we should look for in our next Executive Director.

2.    Report submitted to the Legislature in December 2023. After the official submission of the report to the Legislature, legislative action will be required to officially approve the transition. The work of the Commission will be to make sure that as we have an internal leadership transition, we address the skill set needed for a smooth transition both from departments and internally for the organization.

The full set of draft recommendations should be available for the board before the retreat so they can be discussed. After feedback, the draft report will go to the Task Force in November. Because there is no Commission meeting in November, the final draft will be on the Executive Committee agenda for December 5. All board members will be notified of the meeting so they can attend and comment. It is an instance where Exec will have to act on behalf of the board between meetings (per policy). Members were reminded that the report will include a section from the Secretary of State’s office on an issue that has nothing to do with the Commission but was included in the bill. The Commission will only be acting on the transition portion.

After the presentation, Commissioners and staff discussed that they hope for a full-time office administrator role and improved capacity to efficiently pay outside vendors after the transition to SoS.

Business Reports 
A. Public Policy
(Shorty): The current state-level legislative priorities are to move a full-time staff office administrator position DOE’s legislative budget, move a small appropriation for Climate Corps ($80K) to personnel because it doesn’t support a corps but would cover the volunteer initiatives work, and to follow L.D. 1260, which prescribes a study to examine Volunteer Maine’s future transition to SoS.

As of today, there are only 8 working days left for Congress to compromise and avoid a government shutdown. Proulx-Curry added that the U.S. Senate is currently considering a budget bill that maintains the current level AmeriCorps’ funding while a budget bill being developed in the U.S. House of Representatives is zeroing out the funding for AmeriCorps education awards. At the most recent States for Service meeting, there was speculation that the current House bill might effectively shut down AmeriCorps if it goes into effect because AmeriCorps members cannot serve if there isn’t funding for the education award. The Senate bill will result in a 30% reduction in positions because it does increase the living allowance, as requested.

Cheesman observed that each previous government shutdown has had a different impact on AmeriCorps programs; though the AmeriCorps federal agency has prepared plans for another shutdown, the agency cannot share them unless a new shutdown is confirmed.

Crofton noted that staff always check if federal payments management systems remains accessible in the event of a shutdown in order to avoid falling behind on grantee reimbursements.

B. Grant Selection and Performance Task Force (Barrett):

MOVED by Barrett and SECONDED by Hayes-Boober to adopt the following slate of policies which had been posted with meeting agenda: 

  1. When one organization applying for grants from multiple Volunteer Maine Programs: If the goal of the grant program is to expand impact and/or member positions, the program needs to clearly articulate how their use of funds will increase member impact (through increased member positions, or otherwise). If one organization is sponsoring programs from different Volunteer Maine funding sources, care must be taken to delineate the two programs internally and externally. For example, members in each program will likely have access to different benefits and be held to different standards depending on the funding source’s authorization. The positions funded by different sources need to have different position descriptions. The majority of service activities need to be substantially different. In grant applications, applicants will be asked to describe how the new positions will be distinguished from existing positions (or other proposed positions) and the applicant should differentiate by describing, member qualifications, core service activities, term length/intensity, and/or performance measures. 
  2. Require that any grant awarded via a Maine Climate Corps competition be required to provide a living allowance/stipend to qualifying members equivalent to 212% of the Federal Poverty Line.. 
  3. Revise the policy on complete reporting of service data to cover Maine Climate Corps grantees as well as AmeriCorps grantees.
  4. Establish a three year host site policy for Maine Climate Corps that is nearly identical to the three year host site policy for Maine AmeriCorps grantees.
  5. Revise the grant continuation policy so it pertains to Maine Climate Corps grantees as well as AmeriCorps grantees. 

In favor–Barrett, Branham, Cheesman, Dugal, Fiori, Fortin-Trimble, Guidon, Hayes-Boober, Lebson, May, McCabe, Meinders, Meuser, Proulx-Curry, Shorty, Tilton-Flood, Wiggin. Opposed–none. Motion passed.

The updated schedule for the fall AmeriCorps Formula grant review process timeline is:

09/06                   Opened
09/28                   Proposals due
10/02-10/06         Peer Review
10/9-10/12           GTF tech review
10/13                   GTF public meeting to finalize recommendations
10/20 morning     Commission vote

Barrett noted that Grants Selection and Performance Task Force will be having an online meeting with the Massachusetts Commission regarding DEI practices in grantmaking in the near future. All are welcome to attend.

Also, the Task Force is running a Competitive AmeriCorps process. The application cycle closes early November.

C. Executive Committee (Shorty):  The committee is working with a consultant, Kaira Esgate, CEO of ASC, to help with the Commission's strategic planning for the next year. She will also be attending the board retreat in October. Relevant business with DOE was already covered in the earlier slideshow briefing about the upcoming transition.

D. Communications Task Force (Lebson): Noted new public members on the commission with that have experience in professional PR. During the Task Force’s meeting earlier this morning, Shorty provided an overview of Volunteer Maine to new members of the group and discussed why volunteer rates are plummeting. There was also preparation for Governor's Service Awards.

E.  Maine Service Fellows Advisory Task Force (Branham): The Task Force will soon review three letters of interest to identify potential MSF projects: one in climate, one in housing, and one in public health.

F. Climate Corps Task Force (Brewer): The Climate Corps Network has been officially launched, with five committed programs. Maine Climate Corps is also developing a partnership with Unity Environmental University.

G. DEI Task Force (Branham): The group decided to spend the rest of autumn 2023 concluding its discussions of racial healing. In the winter, the group will study indigenous populations in Maine in order to explore the possibility of land acknowledgement practices in the future. The Task Force will also be exploring potentially overlapping areas of interest and practice with the Permanent Commission on the Status of Racial, Indigenous, and Maine Tribal Populations to see if future collaboration is possible.

H. Excellence and Expertise Task Force (Preecs, Proulx-Curry): Expect an invitation to the Maine Volunteer Leadership Conference in the fall. Since AmeriCorps grantees are required to attend, the event will be a good opportunity to make contacts. Volunteer Generation Fund was not funded again and L.D. 666 did not make it past committee for a vote; as result, Program Officer for Volunteer Sector Initiatives Kelsey Preecs will not have her position funded next year.

I. AmeriCorps (federal agency) update (Cheesman): A communications toolkit regarding the AmeriCorps 30th Anniversary celebration has been distributed to state commissions.

J. Commission Staff Reports: Commissioners looked at staff reports submitted during the last three months. It was noted that the Maine Service Fellows Director position is also due to run out of funding at the end of this year.

Focus on Mission Responsibilities
A.    2024 Budget for Commission Support Grant and TTA Grant
(Crofton): Commissioners reviewed the 2024 Budget for Commission Support Grant (CSG) and TTA Grant. The federal AmeriCorps agency is resetting the start date of these grants after 30 years of a January to December cycle. To move these grant start/end dates to July/June, the federal agency is adding 6 months of funding and requesting an 18-month funding application. 

Staff developed the budgets so the normal 12 months is segregated from the additional 6 months. The money for the extension will all be awarded through the TTA grant even though activities performed under CSG are not normally allowed. The terms and conditions of the award need to be monitored to be sure language is added to cover this disconnect. In anticipation of a question, Crofton let board members know the CSG funds for the extension would not require match.

Also, Crofton explained the distinction between dedicated revenues (014), state general revenue funds (010), indirect amounts, and 1% collections from AmeriCorps grants. She noted that some expenses previously covered by indirect had to move to direct charges because the DAFS Service Center fee paid by indirect, increased from $3,000 to $7,000 per quarter and OIT costs grew significantly. This created a domino-effect best seen in a historic source of match. The Commission will not be using Maine Association of Broadcasters for match in 2024 due to the lack of funds for another broadcasting contract. 

MOVED by Barrett and SECONDED by Meinders to approve the 2024 Budget for Commission Support Grant and TTA Grant. 

In favor–Barrett, Branham, Cheesman, Dugal, Fiori, Fortin-Trimble, Guidon, Hayes-Boober, Lebson, May, McCabe, Meinders, Meuser, Proulx-Curry, Shorty, Tilton-Flood, Wiggin. Opposed–none. Motion passed.    

Business Wrap-Up (Shorty): Shorty adjourned the meeting a 1:05 p.m. The next Commission meeting will occur on October 20, 2023 at 10:00 a.m.