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Elected to serve: The guardian

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Elected to serve: The guardian

The Polk County public administrator is charged with managing care for those who can’t care for themselves and, Davolt said, the job typically starts with clients’ rerouting mail so it comes to her office. 

Barbara Davolt

Barbara Davolt sits at her desk in her office at the Polk County courthouse. 

Davolt currently has 98 clients, she said, legally determined to be wards or protectees in need of a court-appointed guardian or conservator. The average age is 44, she said. 

“How many pieces of junk mail do you get a day?” she said. "Four or five pieces? Multiply that times 98. That’s what we get.”

Some clients may have had a stroke or have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Some may have mental issues, she said. Due to the circumstances many are in, Davolt said, mail is a good place to start looking for information.

"A lot of these people can’t tell us what they do or don’t have," she said.  

Many clients have bills, social security, appointments and other obligations that must be met, she said. 

Missouri statutes 473, 474 and 475 define public administrators’ roles as conservators. Statute says the job is "appointed by a court to have the care and custody of the estate of a minor or a disabled person."

barbara davolt

Polk County Public Administrator Barbara Davolt is sworn in along with other elected officials in December 2016. 

Statute 475.010 specifies guardianship as also centering on minors or those who are incapacitated. 

According to the Missouri Association of Public Administrators, "guardianship and conservatorship is a legal process used when a person can no longer make safe and/or sound decisions about his or her person and/or property and may fall victim to fraud or improper influence."

It starts in court, Davolt said. There, a petitioner asks a judge to appoint the public administrator as guardian or conservator over a potential client. 

"Someone can’t come in here and say, ‘I want you to be my payee,’" she said. "It has to be set up through the court."

The office builds a profile for the client, determining what their needs are and what resources they have. 

"We have to go to the bank to close out accounts or open accounts," she said. "Sometimes, we have to go to every bank in town to make sure they don’t have any money anywhere."

The office then works with government agencies and businesses to make sure the individual is cared for. 

Davolt said she regularly coordinates with the Social Security Administration and other welfare administrators, the Missouri Division of Family Services, the Department of Health and Senior Services and the Department of Mental Health, along with nursing homes, hospitals and doctors. 

"We pay their bills, and we set up care plans and we talk to the doctors," she said. "We talk to the people that provide care for them, like a nursing home or a group home. We set up their burial plans. We set up their utilities."

Davolt provided a written job description, outlining several duties, including preparing clients’ tax returns, all record keeping, receiving mail and taking phone calls. 

She’s also responsible for attending care plan meetings for each client every three months or through quarterly reviews to assess their well-being and writing checks and paying all bills. 

The office writes at least 150 checks each month out of around 70 bank accounts. 

She said she’s also often called out after hours and on weekends to handle situations with clients. 

"It’s a lot of calls in the night," she said, explaining that if a client has a medical or behavioral issue, she’s required to be contacted. “I sleep with my cell phone.”

Barba davolt

Polk County Public Administrator Barbara Davolt, center, joins fellow elected officials in a performance of “Thank You for Being a Friend” during a retirement celebration for former county treasurer Vonna Jones in December. Also pictured are Polk County Clerk Melinda Robertson, left, and Collector Debbi Roberts-McGinnis, right. 

 

Davolt said she also finds herself mentally taking the job home with her. 

“My mind really never shuts off, because I’m always thinking about the five things I’ve got to do tomorrow, or the six things I’ve got to do this weekend, or the six things I’ve got to do next week,” she said. “I’ve got to apply for disability for someone. I’ve got to apply for food stamps. I’ve got to go through a lady’s belongings after she’s died.”

Put simply, Davolt said, the job is “not for the faint of heart.”

The stressful nature of the post, coupled with common misunderstandings about the nature of her work, can make it difficult, she said. 

But since first taking office in 2005 after winning an eight-person race for election in 2004, Davolt said she’s felt at home in the job. Terms are four years and the position carries a $45,000 salary. 

She said she wants to continue serving in the position as long as she can. 

“I can thrive on a little bit of stress and figuring things out,” she said. “I like to put my little investigator hat on and try to figure out where everybody’s stuff is. I feel like I get to help people, like it’s my calling.”

Associate editor Jill Way contributed to this article. 

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