Some current and former public officials say Mecklenburg County commissioners should reconsider how they oversee the trouble-prone Department of Social Services.
An independent board runs DSS in nearly every North Carolina county. But since the 1970s, Mecklenburg has used an unusual arrangement in which the board of county commissioners provides oversight.
In her first extensive public comments since she was fired in September, former Mecklenburg DSS Director Mary Wilson said the arrangement does not work well.
The county should create a separate board to oversee DSS, Wilson said.
The debate has heated up since October when the Observer reported details of a previously undisclosed 2011 consultants study that found the agencys child welfare division was so dysfunctional officials should bring in outside monitors. Such a move is often reserved for failing government agencies.
Commissioner Bill James said the board rarely meets to specifically discuss DSS issues and receives no details about cases the agency has mishandled.
James said he wants the board to take a more active role in shaping DSS policy, particularly child protection.
For as long as I have been on the board, once every few months there is a preventable tragedy, James said. Then, the system goes back to the way it is. It is a constant trail of misery.
Outgoing commissioner Jim Pendergraph said the existing system is operating fine.
County Manager Harry Jones makes personnel decisions and his lieutenant, County General Manager Michelle Lancaster, helps oversee day-to-day operations. Administrators report to commissioners when policy questions arise.
If the board is going to micromanage, why delegate authority to Jones, Pendergraph said.
Former commissioner Dan Bishop said he never received regular updates on Youth and Family Services when he served on the board from 2004 to 2008. Bishop said he does not recall hearing about any mishandled cases.
But he said the system worked because Jones and lieutenants are open and responsible.
If I asked for information, I got the information, Bishop said.
Former commissioner Norman Mitchell, who served from 1998 to 2008, said the county needs to set up a separate board to help oversee DSS.
Under the current system, he said, the board cannot provide proper oversight because it is dependent on staff for information.
You dont have any power to investigate, Mitchell said. You have to take what staff gives you.
Clasen-Kelly: 704 358-5027
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