SC Board of Supervisors asks for HHS Director Resignation 100511
News, analysis, and opinion from the Fringe Editor
On Tuesday, October 4 the Sierra County Board of Supervisors requested the resignation of Health and Human Services Director Dr. Carol Roberts.
In Sierra County the director of Health and Human Services oversees county services in mental health, health, environmental health, child welfare services, social services and alcohol and other drug abuse. The position works with local clinics, courts, probation, schools and other agencies and groups.
According to information provided by the Mountain Messenger News, the Board voted three to two to request Dr. Robert's resignation, and to offer six months severance pay. The "no" votes were cast by Supervisors Nunes and Schlefstein. The Director can decline to resign, but typically such requests precede more direct involvement, and no director wants to be dismissed.
Though no reason has been given for the request, it is assumed it is because some see HHS as growing to empirical proportions under her watch; others feel Dr. Roberts failed to respond to community concerns over HHS activities. There are lawsuits against the County and Dr. Roberts and other staff at SC CWS over agency handling of a family.
Analysis: The action by the Board concludes at least a year's time over which the relationship between the Director and the Board grew increasingly unfriendly. Though that unhappy relationship was only part of the motivation, it resulted in a scrutiny of HHS projects before the Board which tightened the purse strings of HHS and made it difficult for the department to smoothly conduct services in some areas.
Dr. Robert's resignation is expected as soon as today, though she might decline to resign or even sue. Unconfirmed reports indicate Dr. Roberts is on administrative leave.
This leaves the Board with the problem of filling Dr. Roberts’ position. The position oversees about 40 staff. The director is
directly or indirectly responsible for obtaining, administering and documenting funds for a large number of projects, from mental health for homeless people to nutrition for Women, Infants and Children. The director oversees the distribution of funds to local groups like the Child Abuse Prevention Council. If there is a problem in a department the Director is ultimately responsible; if there is the perception of a problem the Director will typically deal with the community. There is the expectation of at least a master's level degree if not a Ph.D. It is a skill set not many people have.
Opinion: Although I have been critical of Dr. Roberts’ handling of child welfare services, I regret her leaving in this manner. Dr.
Roberts, I think, handled the technical details of funding programs well, and she was well versed in the paradigm of mental health, health and social services. She remained stoic throughout a very difficult time.
I remain critical of two things: first, her ability to competently direct staff, and second, her ability to represent the agency to the
public and to the Board.
The Prospect has already written enough about the court cases against the county arising from the way the family was treated, but the case, and other cases, reflect an agency willing to bend or break the law to enforce their vision on the family. That "socialization" of the family, essentially teaching them to look at and think about the world as the social worker does, is assumed to be beneficial for the children in the family, but easily becomes more important for the agency than the actual welfare of the family, or the respect they deserve as people, and as free Americans. When that happens there is a serious breach of social worker ethics, and of the law.
Much of the action taken by the agency in the stead of the state is shielded by the court, and the reports of family and friends about a case are often misinformed or "spun" to make the clients look better. Even so, there were clear indications to those outside the system that Sierra County CWS was over-reaching its bounds.
There are other indicators that Dr. Roberts was not a competent director of staff. Like the stories of families, the stories of
staff are often incomplete or misleading. Even so, there were reports of very high levels of dis-satisfaction and even professional
concern in the department. Running a department of largely professional staff is difficult, as staff have their own purviews and
professional expectation. Still, it's part of the responsibility of the Director.
I'm also critical of Dr. Roberts’ unwillingness or inability to address the Board or the community. To some degree, her interactions were constrained; she was legally unable to address any specific client or even group of clients. But there was the need to address community and Board concerns, and for whatever reason, Dr. Roberts never did that. She had the authority to call an independent consultant to review the case in question, and to evaluate the department's compliance with the law over-all. She failed to do anything of that nature, and essentially denied that the Board had any authority to cause her to answer Board and community concerns. She attended Board meeting after Board meeting, and never explained things clearly to the satisfaction of supervisors, or the public. She used social services mumbo jumbo, sometimes insisting services were mandated when they weren't, and obscuring and frustrating Board attempts to evaluate how the department was being run. Dr. Roberts repeatedly failed to take the likelihood of declining funding into account in her explanations to the Board, and they were repeatedly forced to ask her directly about the County's obligations should the state reduce funding, instead of making it a
significant part of her presentation.
In my view, a successful Director knows how to be gracious to their boss, just as the lowliest keyboard grunt knows how to be gracious to the director. The community relies on the Board of Supervisors to protect them from department heads who exceed the limits of the law when dealing with citizens. In essence, they answer to us.
The Board now has to fill the director position.
Funding is down in health and social services, but most likely the next director will come from a private social service agency, since they are being hit hardest by fund reductions. Ideally, the next director will have background in mental health, health and social services delivery. They will know how to read the law, apply for funds, address the public and please the Board of Supervisors.
It's not a job for the faint of heart, and the fact that Dr. Roberts resigned will scare some administrators away. Personally, I hope the Board is able to find someone with appropriate qualifications, but it is never easy in small counties, particularly when we would want such a person to live in the county, and share the community we all live in, and many people don't want to live in the boondocks.
In the meantime, the rudder of HHS falls to existing staff to stay on course, and many staff have no professional training or appropriate degrees.