What is going on with Lawrence County Children and Youth Services?
County officials are saying very little. And while that is understandable, it’s also unnerving. Perhaps they could give us just a little bit more.
A sudden upheaval in any government sector, with key figures being put on administrative leave, is never an indication that all’s well in that arena.
That’s what happened last week when CYS director Bill Betz and deputy director Frank Merlino were invited to step aside while Joe Venasco and Chrissy Montague assumed their respective duties for the time being. Three caseworker supervisors also were placed on paid administrative leave.
To no one’s surprise, the commissioners seized upon that old Sunshine Law exemption — “personnel matter” — to explain their reticence about sharing further details.
As we’ve suggested before, it may be time for the policy of “personnel matter” to be re-examined when invoking it prevents the public from knowing what exactly has gone wrong with their government, and what the impact of those missteps could be. Still, it’s like that NFL rule that penalizes players for landing on quarterbacks during a tackle. It’s a bad rule, but a rule it is, and so the officials must enforce it. Similarly, the commissioners must also play the hand they’ve been dealt.
But is it a winning hand?
To be sure, the most important thing here is to see that whatever has gone wrong is corrected, and that steps are taken to ensure against a repeat occurrence. And if civil or criminal negligence should be uncovered during the course of whatever investigation is taking place, then any individuals responsible must be held accountable. If throwing the doors wide open to welcome one and all behind the scenes of the probe would endanger that, then keeping them closed make sense.
On the other hand, consider the times we live in.
In August, without any regard to due process, a state grand jury released the names of more than 300 priests it accused of having committed sexual abuse against children. Though the release was delayed briefly by legal appeals, the names were released to ensure that those still alive and or/serving could not hurt any additional children.
“Children,” obviously, is the first word in Children and Youth Services, an agency tasked with looking into matters involving the neglect and abuse of children.
Perhaps because of that August report our minds wonder first and foremost: Was the welfare of any child put at risk because of the improper action or inaction being investigated?
We surely hope not. Maybe the issue is one of improperly filed records, or records not filed at all. Maybe there was a misuse of agency funding.
While such actions are hardly defensible, the revelation of such would at least put some minds at ease knowing that none of the county’s most precious resources — its children — were put in harm’s way. And no names would have to be mentioned. We’d simply like to know what happened; who was responsible for it can come later.
Obviously, the commissioners know more than they are saying, which is precisely why they aren’t saying it. Lacking that same knowledge, it would be presumptuous to judge the propriety of their silence.
Still, when facts are not forthcoming, rumor and conspiracy theories rush in to fill the void, and these tend to go viral on social media. A few more details could certainly help to stem that tide and promote patience.