DCF and the court of public opinion

As the demands for Department of Children and Families Commissioner Olga Roche to step down grow louder, so do the voices of support. But the fate of DCF does not lie in whether this commissioner stays or goes, but in the Child Welfare League of America’s report on the agency due later this spring.

Until then, a classic political battle is being played out in the court of public opinion. While some state legislators and opinion leaders insist on a replacement, Gov. Deval Patrick marshals forces in support of his lieutenant.

The Salem News  argues that the “DCF chief must go.” The Boston Herald’s Adriana Cohen says that “if the DCF isn’t gutted and rebuilt with new management, there’s a high probability more kids will either die, fall through the cracks, or be abused in its system.” Margery Eagan finds Roche evasive and WBZ-TV’s Jon Keller labels the governor “defensive.”

Last week, 24 state representatives, 16 Republicans, and eight Democrats upped the ante by calling on Patrick to dismiss Roche. But the Corner Office dug in. The Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees DCF, responded to the lawmakers’ gambit by pulling together a list of 18 prominent social service and child welfare experts, beginning with state Health and Human Services Secretary John Polanowicz and Erin Bradley, the head of the Children’s League of Massachusetts to back up the DCF chief.

“Let’s hold accountable the people who are accountable,” Patrick told The Boston Globe on Sunday. “Let’s not trash everybody because they work in an agency, frankly, where hundreds of miracles are performed every week.”

The Child Welfare League may yet come down on Roche, an up-through-the-trenches manager. But a person who has held the job for less than a year is unlikely to be the sole focus of their scrutiny. If anything, the tenure of her predecessor Angelo McClain, who held the job for six years and is now the head of the National Association of Social Workers, is likely to undergo closer investigation.

McClain was Patrick’s pick, too, so the report’s conclusions will hold some interesting implications for the governor’s oversight of one of the most troubled agencies in state government.

What the Legislature aims to do about DCF, Roche or no Roche, is unclear. House Speaker Robert DeLeo has said that the agency has “sufficient funds to operate” and shot down any infusion of any new tax dollars via the governor’s proposed tax on soda and candy. If the Child Welfare League of America discovers that the agency’s plight is, as a federal judge complained in November, “more about budgetary shortfalls than management myopia,” then the spotlight should rightly shift from the governor to the people who control the purse strings.

Absent another heart-rending crisis, Patrick is unlikely to give in to the commentariat before the Child Welfare League unveils its report. Yet the state’s child welfare crisis predates both Patrick and Roche. What happens to the agency after the outrage subsides?

–GABRIELLE GURLEY

 

BEACON HILL

Bills pass overwhelmingly on Beacon Hill but then idle in the legislative limbo of House-Senate conference committees, State House News reports.

The Herald digs up sidebar transcripts and squashed evidence from former Probation Department commissioner John O’Brien‘s state corruption trial; the records show several high profile local politicians, including Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, Sen. Ed Markey, Scott Brown and Richard Tisei sponsored would-be Probation employees.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Quincy Mayor Thomas Koch says the city is prepared to cut ties with the master developer of the $1.6 billion downtown renovation amid questions over the firm’s ability to complete the stalled project.

A Brockton city councilor and the city’s director of personnel say the residency law is stopping qualified applicants from seeking municipal jobs over fears of uprooting their families and then losing their jobs if a mayor is voted out in two years.

James Tierney , chief of staff of the Boston Redevelopment Authority, is leaving City Hall for a job at a local real estate brokerage.

CASINOS

A study commissioned by the North Central Chamber of Commerce argues that a proposed slots parlor in Leominster would be more viable than facilities proposed for Plainville or Raynham because it would be more insulated from competition in Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts. A Globe editorial came to the same conclusion earlier this month.

NATIONAL POLITICS/WASHINGTON

The Congressional Budget Office forecasts that a hike in the minimum wage would raise the income of 16.5 million people while eliminating 500,000 jobs, the Associated Press reports.

A National Review columnist and a Harvard professor get after it over billionaire Tom Perkins‘s view that the number of votes you get should be directly tied to the amount of taxes you pay.

“Chris Christie’s Entire Career Reeks,” reads the not so subtle headline on Alec MacGillis’s deep dive in The New Republic.

A New York Times editorial urges the IRS to ignore critics on the right and the left, and swiftly crack down on political nonprofits that have been dumping money into political races without having to disclose their donors. The tricky nature of such an IRS effort figured prominently in a recent CommonWealth conversation on dark money.

ELECTIONS

Daniel Fishman, the Libertarian who ran for Congress against US Rep. John Tierney in 2012, is backing Republican Richard Tisei this year, the Gloucester Times reports.

US Sen. Edward Markey prepares to unveil gun control legislation, the Telegram & Gazette reports.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The New England Fishery Management Council will take a preliminary vote next week on whether to close Stellwagen Bank to recreational and charter-boat fishing to protect fish habitats.

The Globe continues its editorial series on low-wage restaurant workers, saying their cause could use some union muscle.

Those noisy complaining kids who will be making a racket today through the Back Bay and on to Beacon Hill? They’re demanding to be put to work.

Neighbors trying to block a restaurant at the tip of Boston’s Long Wharf appear to have the upper hand now that a map showing the area is a park has been uncovered.

Verizon is slowing streaming speeds for Netflix.

EDUCATION

The proposed Fenix Charter School in Lynn is shot down by state officials, the Item reports.

The University of New Hampshire women’s hockey coach was fired, but should he have been?

Student debt is rising rapidly, and the increase has been concentrated among borrowers with poor credit.

TRANSPORTATION

The head of the Montachusett Regional Transit Authority is accused of collecting his pension while holding the top job, which pays $133,650, the Sentinel and Enterprise reports.

The Atlantic compares a proposed national license plate tracking database to the NSA’s warrantless snooping on cell phone data.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Footprint, which wants to build a new natural gas-fired power plant in Salem, and the Conservation Law Foundation reach a tentative settlement of their differences. CLF agreed to drop its legal challenges in return for a commitment from Footprint to keep carbon emissions below a specified level through 2025 and then reduce them annually until the plant is shut down in 2049, the Salem News reports.

Environmentalists are concerned the CAD — contained aquatic disposal — cells the EPA is digging in New Bedford Harbor to bury PCB-contaminated soil will not do the job after two minor earthquakes this month shook the area and their confidence.

A Boston start-up is pushing a promising technology that can tap wastewater to generate electricity.

The Supreme Court hears a challenge to the EPA’s greenhouse gas regulations.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

The Supreme Judicial Court rules 5-2 that police must obtain a search warrant before gathering the cell phone records of suspects, the Associated Press reports.

Public defenders, swamped with heavy caseloads, are fighting back with a new report issued by the American Bar Association, Governing reports. CommonWealth reports on public defender blues in Massachusetts in its current print issue.

Julie Corey, the woman convicted of killing a pregnant woman and cutting her fetus out of her body, is given a life sentence, the Telegram & Gazette reports.

A three-member board of inquiry in Lowell finds police neglected their duty by ignoring a severely intoxicated woman in custody who ended up dying, the Sun reports.

A Beverly man is accused of hacking into the town’s bank account and stealing $63,000, the Salem News reports.

Meet the Author

Gabrielle Gurley

Senior Associate Editor, CommonWealth

About Gabrielle Gurley

Gabrielle covers several beats, including mass transit, municipal government, child welfare, and energy and the environment. Her recent articles have explored municipal hiring practices in Pittsfield, public defender pay, and medical marijuana, and she has won several national journalism awards for her work. Prior to coming to CommonWealth in 2005, Gabrielle wrote for the State House News Service, The Boston Globe, and other publications. She launched her media career in broadcast journalism with C-SPAN in Washington, DC. The Philadelphia native holds degrees from Boston College and Georgetown University.

About Gabrielle Gurley

Gabrielle covers several beats, including mass transit, municipal government, child welfare, and energy and the environment. Her recent articles have explored municipal hiring practices in Pittsfield, public defender pay, and medical marijuana, and she has won several national journalism awards for her work. Prior to coming to CommonWealth in 2005, Gabrielle wrote for the State House News Service, The Boston Globe, and other publications. She launched her media career in broadcast journalism with C-SPAN in Washington, DC. The Philadelphia native holds degrees from Boston College and Georgetown University.

MEDIA

Boston magazine interviews Boston Globe owner John Henry by email and learns he is changing the newspaper’s pay wall and definitely planning to move the daily out of its Morrissey Boulevard digs.