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Report: Robinson "terminated" at Durham DSS, less than two years after appointment

From the That-Was-Quick Department: Two separate sources have told BCR that Durham County's social services director Gerri Robinson was axed Wednesday by the department's oversight board.

Chalk this one up as officially unconfirmed at this time, as the County's public information office isn't currently in a position to offer confirmation or more information -- but from what we're hearing at BCR, this one is a done deal.

The DSS Board -- which, as the Herald-Sun points out this morning, picked up a new chair in Stan Holt, vice-chair in BOCC'er Joe Bowser, and a new board member in Gail Perry, all through an organizational meeting -- reportedly terminated Robinson's employment for unspecified reasons.

Intriguingly, Perry, who herself is a guidance counselor at Durham's Lakeview alternative school, is poised to assume the directorship on an interim basis as of Aug. 8, with Jovetta Whitfield serving in the position in the interim, according to an email from Holt.

That email went on to add:

This has not been an easy process and I know this will create some uncertainty in the agency. However, rest assured that we will now move quickly to find a new Director for the Durham County Department of Social Services.

We've noticed a seeming uptick in closed-door DSS board meetings of late, which can be an indication of personnel intrigue (though at least one recent meeting purported to be over a matter involving a juvenile, which is a closed-records matter in most non-criminal cases.)

That included two meetings this spring (April 4 and April 12) described as falling under the rubric of N.C.G.S. 143-318.11(a)(6), a section of the general statutes that encompasses contemplation of "the qualifications, competence, performance, character, fitness, conditions of appointment, or conditions of initial employment of an individual public officer or employee or prospective public officer or employee; or to hear or investigate a complaint, charge, or grievance by or against an individual public officer or employee[.]"  Though of course, we don't know whether those meetings were in reference to Robinson or other staff at the agency.

Still, DSS' Robinson -- who only arrived in Durham in fall of 2009 -- is no stranger to moving along, or being moved along, from positions.

As we and other media noted at the time of her appointment, Robinson came to Durham after being let go in her role over Nashville's social services organization, reportedly after differing with officials there over the role of the organization in providing direct support versus leading coordination and control efforts.

We noted with some curiosity Robinson's push to allow Durhamites to use their child care subsidies towards informal providers including family instead of licensed child-care facilities -- a move that drew brickbats from a number of local social services providers.

As we said here then:

What's really concerning about the whole proposal, however, is the claim of these two respected advocates that the possible change is taking place without due collaboration with the County's existing partners. 

(Gronberg's story this morning describes the change as one "unilaterally embarked on" by Social Services.)

That in and of itself should be feedback to the director. Durham's a collaborative town, and one where there's longstanding and valued relations between non-profits and local agencies. Those agencies can work at cross purposes at times, and sometimes need guidance from officials on delivering tangible, measurable outcomes -- something long a complaint when funding time comes around.

But if this change is coming without collaboration and input from partners, that should be an opportunity for board feedback to the new director.

An issue worth watching in the coming months is whether this reflects a well-meaning attempt to augment available services, or a sign that communication and outreach between DSS and agencies needs help.

I suspect we'll have a lot more to learn about Robinson's departure in the days to come. 

And while there's no telling whether it's linked to the early-in-her-term controversy over child care subsidies, that affair certainly seemed to be a possible indicator of trouble ahead... trouble that may have indeed come to roost for DSS.

Comments

deekedeek

Something about all of this is very fishy: Gail Perry coming onto a board where one of her first actions is to fire the director the board oversees and at the same meeting to be appointed as the deposed director's replacement? The questions raised by all the changes on the DSS board itself during Robinson's tenure? Joe Bowser's sudden prominence? The same Joe Bowser who a year or so ago was railing against both the DSS director and the entire Board over the Pebbles Lucas contract termination? Speaking out of both sides of his mouth on issues that led to Robinson's firing: in the N&O he reports she did not pursue family reunification while in the H-S the problem was placing Mangum's kids with their biological father rather than continuing a foster placement. And then there's his glossing of the issues around Perry's departure from DSS? As I recall, the issue was more than "a few flowers"--it was thousands of dollars of inappropriate spending--of which Becky Heron was very critical (and there's no love lost between Bowser and Heron). This all smells of putting the fox in charge of the henhouse to me. I don't "have a dog in the fight" about whether or not Robinson is a good fit. But from the outside looking in, all the recent changes on the DSS Board and their actions & decisions this week raise some questions.

PHd

It appears that DSS has had many problems over the last 2 years and from reading the most recent Herald Sun articles about how DSS supported handing over kids to a father who owes the state of NC more than 34,000.00,has had no physical relationship with minor kids in over 9 years,didn't have a job,doesn't have his own place to live,and DSS never issued a warrant for arrest for failure to pay child support and this is just one of many complaints about how DSS operates.History has shown that when an organization starts to have problems the responsibility fall on the head of the agency. In the future when Directors fail to direct properly be prepared to be fired. UNC should be your shining example.

anonymous

Can we get Marsh Basloe back to lead Durham's Partnership for Children? Yes, these are related items.

deekedeek

@PhD I hope DSS doesn't take The UNC route. A $2 million plus payoff when someone is fired is not great oversight or fiscal management from where I sit.

John Davis

Durham is just one big welfare county (less RTP and Bahama).

Wesley Hyatt

Good job following up on this important story. I expect we'll be getting a follow-up on it soon, and the details will not be pleasant. And so it goes with the DSS as always ...

Doug Roach

Really enlightening comment by John Davis. I suspect that if he even lives in Durham County, he has made zero contribution to our community except this inane statement.

Amy Henderson

What does everyone think about the Judge Doretta Walker, who I hear has ordered a Durham Mother to jil if she doesn't give the child back to the abusive father???

DSS , finally after 3 years of complaints from Medical doctors, several Duke ER visits for injuries, top therapist, Social Workers and of course the Mother, has "susspended all visitation and ordered the Mother to not allow contact with Father."
Judge Walker is dismissing DSS's actions and knows about the horrible and dangerous environment and drug activity but knows especially of the physical abuse and is hell-bent on the child being put back in an abusive and dangerous situation! Someone do something?? The Mother is supposed to be in "Family" court on August 9th at 9:30 to face Contempt Charges and jail--We need some Judges in this town that will protect our children not enable the abusers!!

anonymous

Joe Bowser needs to keep his nose out of day-to-day personnel matters and agency operations. Remember the last time he was this involved in a personnel matter: the Mike Ruffin firing? That went really well, didn't it.

anonymous

I'm not in the loop about why she was fired. But HOW she was fired and HOW Gail Perry was named acting director is very suspicious and at the very least raises questions about ethics and conflict of interest. Joe Bowser's history of involvement in personnel matters is less than illustrious. And could we talk about client confidentiality and Bowser speaking on the record to reporters about child custody cases--complete with names? This is a pretty poor example for someone on the DSS board to set--and doesn't inspire confidence about promises of confidentiality to either clients or people who are supposed to report child abuse. I certainly hope there's follow up on this whole situation--and that it includes the DSS Board, BOCC knowledge or involvement in the decision to fire Robinson, advice that may or may not have been sought from HR or county attorneys, and any personal connections or animosities that may exist between Bowser and Robinson or Gail Perry. This whole situation has been buried in silence since this story appeared--I hope someone is working on it.

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