Our county is faced with serious problems at DSS. While most of the discussions were appropriately held in closed sessions, sufficient public information is available to construct an event timeline and understand the rationale underlying actions taken by all parties without speculation.
The Cherokee County Department of Social Services (CCDSS) operates under the direct control of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) in Raleigh. DHHS is responsible for monitoring performance of the local agency, and, in fact, is required to perform routine performance audits and reviews. DHHS is also responsible for training local personnel at all times not just when deficiencies are found. Although DHHS did perform audits of the CCDSS, their examination of the agency’s files was cursory and limited at best. It is not surprising, therefore, that DHHS failed to find the inappropriate actions in our local DSS for more than ten years and institute corrective action. This represents yet another failure of state government to perform tasks required by its own regulations.
The local DSS Board does not have the authority to access or to review client cases due to privacy laws and has to rely on the monthly reports of the DSS director. As civilians without social work degrees, board members lack the expertise to evaluate the agency, which is why the professionals at DHHS are charged with oversight responsibility. As mandated by state statute (108A-9), the DSS Board only has the power to hire and fire the director and plan the budget. All other actions within DSS are the responsibility of the director, the department supervisors, and, ultimately, DHHS.
In other words, by NC state law, the local DSS Board does not have oversight authority over DSS, nor does the local DSS Board have the authority to obtain any information about DSS clients, performance, and personnel that is not provided by the agency itself. DHHS, however, does legally have that power as was demonstrated when they took over control of CCDSS several weeks ago.
The County Commission has the authority only to appoint a DSS attorney chosen by the DSS director, appoint two outside members of the DSS Board, and approve the DSS budget.
Initially, Scott Lindsay was employed as DSS attorney on an hourly contract basis, but, in 2014, he was hired as full time DSS attorney under then DSS Director Donna Crawford. At that time, Lindsay was also employed as county attorney one day per week, so that 80% of his compensation was for DSS-related issues. Approximately 65% of his DSS salary is reimbursed to the county by the state. DSS was entirely responsible for Lindsay’s performance at that agency, and the director, not the commission, could have decided to terminate his employment at any time such action was desirable or necessary.
A time line of Scott Lindsay’s employment termination is easy to construct. The CVA court case was filed about one week before Christmas, 2017. Lindsay was fired by DSS about one week after New Years (January 9, 2018) and fired as county attorney at the next regularly scheduled commission meeting (February 5, 2018). Three commissioners (Eichenbaum, Westmoreland, and McKinnon) voted for the immediate termination of Lindsay at that meeting without severance or benefits. Commissioner Stiles wanted to continue his employment until the end of the fiscal year but was outvoted. Discussions about Lindsay’s long term job performance for the county and the reasons for Lindsay’s dismissal from DSS and county were appropriately held in closed sessions. His termination in both capacities obviously occurred less than two months after the onset of court proceedings.
The current problems at DSS are primarily due to lack of proper and required oversight by DHHS in Raleigh.