Champaign County Department of Job and Family Services Director Susan Bailey-Evans will retire this week before returning next year.
Friday marks the temporary end of a career that has spanned three decades and two counties.
Bailey-Evans was hired with the department on Jan. 10, 1982, as a family services aide. In this role, she worked with senior citizens to help them stay in their homes.
“I did not start this job thinking I would be here for 30-some years,” Bailey-Evans said. “When I started this job, I never dreamt that I would’ve had been so honored and blessed to have the opportunities that I’ve had and it truly has been an honor and a blessing.”
Multiple years into her career, Bailey-Evans said she knew this was the career she wanted to have because she loves working with people. She credits former director Jim Smith for being supportive of employees getting their education.
“He helped support me in getting my bachelor’s degree (from Urbana University) and then a couple of years after that I went back to school and got my master’s degree (from The Ohio State University),” Bailey-Evans said. “There was some minor financial support as well, but a lot of the support came from our flexible work schedule just to allow me to work my 40 hours in non-traditional ways so I could take off early a couple days and go to school and still meet the demands of the job.”
During her career, Bailey-Evans held numerous positions ranging from child care worker, to working in adult protective services, to being a social services administrator before becoming the department’s director in 2008.
“It just happened that the timing was right,” she said. “I’d be in a job for a certain period of time and there’d be an opening and I’d think ‘oh that would be kind of cool’ for forward movement.
“So many times in small agencies you don’t get that. A lot of times because we’re so small and when you get people like me who want to stick around forever and we don’t leave then it’s hard for young people to get a chance to move up so a lot of times they have to go to other agencies that are larger in order to have those opportunities. I’ve just been very fortunate and blessed that when the timing was right for me to take advantage of an opportunity somebody retired or resigned and opened a door to allow me to move forward.”
During her term as the director, Bailey-Evans said, she has been fortunate to have excellent members of management who know their programs and are able to direct their staff to get the job done. One of the major efforts she oversaw in 2009 was merging with child support.
“We had to do lots of remodeling here, lots of work with the director of the child support enforcement agency,” Bailey-Evans said.
In 2012, Bailey-Evans became a shared director for the Champaign County department and the Logan County department.
“Logan County lost their director rather suddenly and they were trying to figure out exactly what it was that they needed,” Bailey-Evans said. “They had heard of shared directors so they contacted other counties and when they contacted Champaign County the board (of commissioners) let me know they had contacted and just gave me that opportunity.”
Champaign County Commissioner Bob Corbett said Logan County commissioners recognized that Bailey-Evans was capable of overseeing their agency.
“Sue is gifted,” Corbett said. “The sign of a good manager is hiring good people and she knows how to put the right people in place to do what needs to get done.”
Champaign County Commissioner Steve Hess said the commissioners have appreciated the services Bailey-Evans has provided to the county.
“There’s a lot of potential liability that falls on the county and on the board of county commissioners with the services they provide,” Hess said. “We’ve been very fortunate to avoid a lot of liability issues that other counties seem not to be able to avoid with job and family service departments.”
As a shared director, Bailey-Evans still works the same amount of hours, but is responsible for overseeing two departments, two budgets and answering to two boards of county commissioners. She said there are only three people in the state who oversee agencies in multiple counties.
“I was the second person to take on two counties, but we’ve maintained our autonomy,” Bailey-Evans said. “We’ve never merged into one county and there’s no intentions, there has not been a conversation of that to occur.”
Bailey-Evans’ original succession plan entailed retiring from the Champaign County agency while continuing to work in Logan County.
“I really felt the time was right for me to get out of Champaign County and let somebody else take this ship to the next level and take us to the next level of where we need to go,” Bailey-Evans said. “Logan County was an agency that I had some things I still wanted to get done. They were moving into a new building up there and I wanted to have some time to work on a good succession plan up there.”
Due to a tremendous amount of staff turnover in social services, Bailey-Evans said, her successor in Champaign County did not want to leave the social services department during the period of turnover.
Effective Feb. 29, 2016, Bailey-Evans will be rehired as the director in Champaign County. On the same date, she will also be contracted as Logan County’s director through the end of the year to allow the agency to move forward and to work on a succession plan.
During her absence, Bailey-Evans said business administrator Martha Bacon will be the interim director in Champaign County while Cynthia Heffner will be the interim director in Logan County.
When she returns, Bailey-Evans said, she plans to work a few more years in Champaign County.
“My initial retirement plans changed quite a bit, but it’s still a great opportunity for the agency and a great opportunity to see how things go with me not being here,” Bailey-Evans said.
Nick Walton can be reached at 937-652-1331 Ext. 1777 or on Twitter @UDCWalton.