Mecklenburg County Manager Harry Jones on Tuesday upheld the firing of former DSS Director Mary Wilson, officially closing one of the most tumultuous chapters in the agencys history.
Wilson, who spent four years running the countys Department of Social Services, filed an appeal after she was terminated last month. She called the firing unfair and unjust.
But Jones found that Wilsons management prompted numerous complaints and an atmosphere in DSS of distrust, fear, suspicion, intimidation, and uncertainty, according to a letter the county released Tuesday.
The letter from Jones is intended to inform Wilson her termination appeal was denied. The Observer obtained the letter through an open records request.
In sometimes blunt language, the letter provides the countys first public explanation for Wilsons firing.
County officials have refused to answer questions from reporters. A three-person employee appeal panel listened to evidence from both sides last week, but the hearing was conducted behind closed doors.
The panel unanimously agreed that Wilson failed to be honest, tell the truth and not withhold information, the letter said. It also said she did not work with others and show respect and courtesy.
Jones concurred with the panel and made the final decision to fire Wilson.
Wilson, who defended her work in her lone public statement last month, did not return phone calls or email Tuesday.
County commissioners did not respond to messages seeking comment or declined comment. A county spokesman also declined comment.
Reversal of opinion
The firing reflects a remarkable about-face for county leaders.
Commissioners unanimously voted to hire Wilson in 2008 to reform the troubled agency. Jones and a search committee recommended Wilson over candidates with social service backgrounds.
They wrongly believed Wilson, who worked mostly in the corporate world as an attorney, could change the culture in DSS, said former county commissioner Parks Helms, who was a member of the search committee.
Helms said he respects Wilson, but said she did not keep promises to reshape DSS without causing dissension.
She tried to bring about fundamental changes in how social services were delivered, Helms said. It didnt work out.
Tensions between Wilson and other county officials apparently flared over DSS struggles to meet federal standards for protecting children.
Negative consultant report
A 2011 consultants study found that Mecklenburgs child protection division was dysfunctional. The report said Youth and Family Services Director Paul Risk failed to offer assertive and decisive leadership and should be removed from his job.
Wilson worked as Risks supervisor, and the report found that distrust between them created divisiveness in the agency. Other documents show Wilson wanted to reassign Risk as far back as 2009.
There is strong consensus within YFS and the broader child welfare community that YFS cannot be successful under the current leadership, working the way they currently work, the study said.
In February, Wilson wrote a memo to county leaders, criticizing Risk. The memo included a copy of a state review from 2011 that found numerous areas of deficiencies in child welfare.
Soon after, Risk began reporting directly to County General Manager Michelle Lancaster instead of Wilson. Lancaster was Wilsons direct supervisor and eventually recommended her firing.
Safety of children
The letter released Tuesday blames Wilson for the failures to keep children safe.
Under Wilson, the effectiveness of DSS, particularly Youth & Family Services (YFS), has declined and there is an associated negative impact on the public perception of DSS and Mecklenburg County, Jones wrote.
The letter also said Wilson failed to follow directions from Lancaster.
You also lied about the organizational management and leadership of YFS and defied directives from Ms. Lancaster about this management, the letter said.