MOUNT VERNON — Running the Knox County Department of Job & Family Services has a lot to do with numbers and data, but for Roger Shooter, it has more to do with the human heart and soul.
“He’s been great,” said Bev White, a 15-year employee of KCDJFS. “He has a lot of empathy for people. He’s really made a difference and has humanized the department.”
Shooter will retire on Oct. 30 from the office he has held since 1994.
Of all of his accomplishments, Shooter said he is most proud of the department’s public-private partnership with Village Network, formerly known as Boys Village, to build and facilitate the care and treatment of children once housed in a county-run group home.
“We are able to keep most of our kids in county. They can get the help they need and we don’t have to run it,” Shooter said. “We wanted to be joined at the hip [with Village Network]. We didn’t want somebody coming in here and making a profit and then leaving.”
Shooter said Village Network is set up to help troubled youth in need of treatment and social orientation. Children are helped through personal issues and transitioned into a foster home, or perhaps into residential living on their own.
Working through welfare reform and the state’s budget cuts have been Shooter’s greatest challenges, he said.
“It’s really hard to lay people off,” Shooter said. “We are counter-cyclical. When the economy goes down, our services go up. We have tons of people that need help. Yet, we are being cut mercilessly.”
Shooter said the number of staff members has fallen from around 100 to 89. His employees say he has been inspirational and leads by example.
“He is the second-best boss I’ve ever had,” said Matthew Kurtz, a 17-year veteran with the department. “I only say that because I worked for my dad for five years.”
Kurtz said Shooter has always made him feel like an equal and has an unspoken way of getting the most out of employees.
“He looks for the best in people,” Kurtz said. “You don’t give your best to someone who doesn’t give their best. He is complimentary and encouraging; he is more like a friend than a boss.”
“He has a good knack of looking at a situation and finding a solution that best suits all the different divisions here,” White said.
Shooter said he wonders what lies ahead for children and adults who just can’t get the help they need.
“Budget cuts hurt real people,” Shooter said. “I don’t think [the Legislature] looks beneath the numbers — there are real people there.”
All of the cuts to programs and budgets have real consequences, he said, and he fears the fallout of severe cuts in programs and services will be more than an already battered system can provide.
“Up until recently we had the resources to make huge differences,” Shooter said. “We are doing OK, but I’d like to see us where we used to be.”
“He’s always looking way ahead and not waiting until something happens. That’s a tremendous asset,” said Bob Wise, county commissioner.
“He’s done an excellent job of managing because they have faced quite a bit of cuts from the state. They have been able to manage that and do very well with few effects on the personnel,” said Knox County Commissioner Teresa Bemiller. “Roger has surrounded himself with a very capable staff; they do an excellent job. That’s a department we have never had to worry much about.”
Above anything else, Shooter said he wishes the residents of Knox County could see his department’s effect on the local economy.
“I don’t think [residents] realize the influence we have on a healthy economy,” he said. “We spend over $100 million a year on Medicaid and most of that’s nursing homes and moms and kids. We spend over $1.2 million a month in food stamps and cash assistance, we train them and help them keep jobs at the employment center. I just don’t think they know the cash we infuse in the economy.”
Shooter said he plans to stay busy in his retirement with personal projects as well as his involvement in the community.