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Guardian watches over interests of disabled

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by Michele Skalicky

SBJ Contributing Writer

When Greene County Public Administrator Carolyn Little was asked 18 years ago to run for the office, she hesitated.

"My first reaction was I'd never want to be a politician or get into politics," she said. But when Little found out what the job responsibilities of the four-year term would be, her interest was piqued. She won the election in 1980 and has won four more since then.

In a cozy office on Boonville Avenue, decorated with silk flowers and Home Interior prints, and filled with the scent of a cappuccino candle, Little described the many responsibilities she holds as the county's public administrator.

Little, 54, serves as public guardian for mentally disabled people, including those with mental illness, developmental disabilities, brain injuries and seniors afflicted with diseases of the aging. Her office has a case load of about 500 people.

"As guardian, we make all the personal decisions for a client," Little said, including where the client lives, what kind of services the client receives from community organizations, who the client's doctor is and more. "We make sure, if a client goes into a nursing home, that their lawn is mowed, their home is winterized anything we would do for ourselves individually we do for our clients."

Little and her three deputies, who are appointed by the probate court, take turns being on call to give medical consent (to allow a client to be hospitalized if they become injured, for example) and to receive other pertinent information. An on-call week usually requires Little to put in about 50 hours of work.

Little's office also is responsible for handling the financial affairs of its clients. Clients' funds cannot be co-mingled, so Little and her staff manage 400 different checking accounts. However, that job is quite a bit easier today than it was when Little first took over as public administrator.

"The office wasn't computerized when I was first elected," she said. Now, Windows 95 helps Little and her staff write checks, make deposits for clients and keep records of calls.

One of Little's deputies is the asset manager, who takes care of the clients' finances. "We have close to $10 million in client assets under administration," Little said. The Public Administrator's Office invests its clients money, so CPAs and other professionals are frequently consulted.

Little said she feels having been a business major at Anderson University in Indiana and having previous experience as an accounting manager has helped her in her current position.

Besides being responsible for about 200 clients on her actual case load, Little manages the office, does her own payroll and bookkeeping, and is sometimes called upon to make life-or-death decisions for clients.

For instance, if her office is asked to give consent for medical personnel to administer CPR to a patient, Little is the one who makes the call. "I don't allow anyone else to make those kinds of decisions. If a client needs an amputation, I make the decision," she said.

Little is a member and former president of the Missouri Association of Public Administrators, as well as a member of the National Guardianship Association. She went through NGA's certification program and is a certified guardian.

Outside of work, Little teaches Bible class to 5-year-olds, works out six days a week and is mom to nine step-children and two of her own. She has three grandchildren and nine step-grandchildren.

Little said she is content with where she is in life. When she was first elected to the position of Greene County public administrator, she was selling real estate and was not happy with her career. But that changed quickly.

"When I got in here I just blossomed," Little said. "I realized this is where I needed to be. It was a calling for me, I think."

Little attributes the smooth operation of her office and the good client relationships it enjoys to her staff.

"When I interview people, one of the first things I do is make sure they have a lot of compassion for people that are less fortunate and make sure they understand lifestyles that are different from ours," she said.

Her clients range from the very poor to the very rich. There are several former homeless people under guardianship, along with several wealthy elderly people, according to Little, and she enjoys working with all of them. Little spends the month of December visiting every client and presenting each one with a gift.

"That is my favorite time of year," she said. "Most of them are glad to see me and are grateful for what I do. There's a lot of strokes involved. It's very rewarding. I think they all know I really care about them."

The people Little works with think highly of her, too.

Paul Goodwin, director of TSransitions for Burrell Mental Health Center, said Little "runs a pretty sophisticated office. When we've had problems, she's always been able to problem-solve in order to straighten different situations out."

Little plans to hold the office into retirement, if the voters decide to keep her. She'll run for re-election in 2000 and again four years later, then plans to retire.

"I love my job," she said. "It has been extremely rewarding because we've been able to constantly search for ways to help our clients have a better lifestyle."

PHOTO CAPTION:

As Greene County public adminstrator, Carolyn Little and her staff oversee close to $10 million in client funds.[[In-content Ad]]

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