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.