Friday, January 14, 2000

Children Services board vacant

Commission glad to avoid dissolution

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON — The six remaining members of the embattled Butler County Children Services Board reluctantly resigned Thursday at the request of the county commissioners.

        The resignations allowed the commissioners to avoid dissolving the board and placing Children Services directly under the commissioners' control. That move would have been necessary if the board members refused to resign.

        The commissioners have said a new board is essential for improving the agency, which serves abused, neglected and dependent children.

        Two board members agreed to resign near the beginning of a sometimes contentious two-hour meeting Thursday afternoon. Four others agreed to resign near the end of the meeting.

        Most said they were resigning only because they didn't want the agency to undergo a 60-day restructuring process that would have been required if the commissioners dissolved the board.

        “It's not in the best interests of the children to have a 60-day delay,” Robert Cottrell, who has been board president for six years, told the commissioners. “You'll have a clean slate. I hope we get the power and control issues out of here.”

        The commissioners will appoint a new 11-member board within two weeks. Two board members resigned within the past week, and one resigned before the commissioners asked for the resignations. There also were two unfilled board vacancies from last year.

        The commissioners said the members of the old board could ask to be placed on the new board.

        The commissioners said they think voters who approved a 2-mill levy renewal in November for Children Services after two levies had failed expect a change of direction in the agency.

        The agency has been accused of being too secretive and not responsive enough to the concerns of the public and the families the agency serves.

        A state audit last year criticized Children Services for being understaffed, not having enough foster parents, taking too long to investigate cases and having inferior computer technology.

        Board members defended their performance and said they already have made some changes recommended by the state audit. Some board members accused the commissioners of failing to provide direction and of playing power games.

        Mr. Cottrell, who has clashed often with Commissioner Mike Fox over agency policies, lashed out at him Thursday.

        “It's not easy to talk with Mike,” he said. “The bottom line is that Mike wants to run the agency.”

        Mr. Fox said he has no desire to run the agency and wants only to improve services to children.

        “What is best for the kids and for the county is to move forward with a fresh start,” he said.

        Several board members warned the commissioners that a complete turnover in the board would be bad for Children Services.

        “It takes one year just to begin to understand the Children Services agency,” said ex-board member Tomasine Dendy.


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