City Reporter 

City Reporter

DCS Commissioner Fired

Governor wants a different kind of leader.

By Janel Davis

Mike Miller

The head of the Tennessee Department of Children's Services (DCS) has been asked to step down from his position in favor of a "different kind of leader."

Governor Phil Bredesen announced during an open budget hearing in Nashville that he asked Mike Miller to vacate the position during a meeting late Monday evening.

In a prepared statement, Bredesen said, "Given the seriousness of the situation at the DCS, we need a strong manager who has experience bringing about the kind of deep cultural change necessary to move the department forward. We also need someone with a proven track record of managing large organizations of this scale."

Earlier this month, the department received a failing progress report in the federal lawsuit regarding children in its care, including key noncompliance findings in the way DCS handles investigations of abuse and neglect and the adequate number of worker visits to foster-care children.

Before taking over DCS, Miller was chief of the Metropolitan Nashville Department of Social Services. In his position at DCS, Miller was responsible for 4,200 employees.

Bredesen also announced that Gina Lodge, commissioner of the Department of Human Services, would serve as the acting commissioner of DCS, but that it was not a sign of a merger between the two departments. A search is already under way for Miller's replacement.

The Children's Cabinet, the 13-member advocacy group instituted by Bredesen in March, has been asked to compose a corrective action plan to facilitate the state's reform efforts. "Specifically, I am asking them to assemble a working group representing business and children's experts who can help chart a course to guide our efforts over the next several months," said Bredesen.

Miller had taken the helm of DCS in February. During his tenure, he fired local regional administrator Juanita White and participated in hearings called by state legislators Carol Chumney and Kathryn Bowers regarding child deaths while under DCS care.

"DCS is a vitally important department whose function goes to the core of what people expect from state government. We can and must do a better job meeting children's needs," said Bredesen.

Focusing on the World

Local pastors fund African orphanage.

By Janel Davis

A local group of pastors is following the doctrines of help and hope they preach by supporting a South African orphanage.

The African American Pastors Consortium (AAPC), led by pastor Melvin Lee, announced plans to fund a comprehensive-care orphanage in Idutywa, near Johannesburg in South Africa. The group hopes to raise more than $30,000 in an inaugural banquet fund-raiser taking place on World AIDS Day, December 1st.

The pastors were approached by a South African minister, Peter Barnes, earlier this year about assisting with his nine-year-old Christian center outreach and the new orphanage. With help from Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church and the AAPC, Barnes opened an HIV center three years ago.

The funding will be used to purchase land and an abandoned supermarket to house the orphanage, along with operational and employee expenses. Once funds are secured, Barnes plans to open the center immediately. Lee said it is unknown how many children will be housed at the facility at this time.

"The AAPC has not forgotten the needs of children in Memphis," said Lee. "But the number of children affected in South Africa is dangerously high, and there are no safety nets or programs to help them compared to what we have in America."

Carol Dickens, of the Regional Medical Center at Memphis and a consultant to the AAPC, said the orphanage funding is just the latest in assistance from the organization.

"Last spring [the group] was able to get Le Bonheur [Children's Medical Center] to donate supplies, and they were transported by FedEx to help with work going on there," she said. "The pastors hope to make this fund-raiser an annual event to maintain funding of the orphanage."

According to the World Health Organization, HIV/AIDS cases in Africa have reached pandemic levels, with more than 70 percent of cases worldwide. The disease has left more than 11 million children orphans in South Africa, with an increase of 3,000 every 24 hours.


High Risk

Memphis gets anti-terrorism funding.

By Bianca Phillips

Memphis was awarded $10.07 million in anti-terrorism funding last week through the federal government's Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI), a Department of Homeland Security program which earmarks $725 million in funding for the top 50 high-risk cities in fiscal year 2004.

"We've been at a high risk since 1996 when the powers-that-be made the decision that there were 30 cities that were subject to be hit by terrorists," said Clint Buchanan, director of the Shelby County Emergency Management Agency.

The UASI takes into account both the risk factor and population numbers to determine what cities will receive grants. Memphis is the only city in Tennessee to qualify for the 2004 grant.

In May, Memphis also received a $6.07 million grant from the Department of Homeland Security for fiscal year 2003. Buchanan says the grants will be used to improve both the police and fire department's emergency response plans for "weapons of mass destruction events."

"This money will give us better equipment, better response, and better personnel training," said Buchanan. "Even if we don't have a terrorist hit, it gives us better training to respond to day-to-day hazardous material operations."

Too Many Pets, Not Enough Homes

Animal-rescue group says other counties should stay away.

By Bianca Phillips

Some 10,000 dogs and cats are euthanized each year at the Memphis Animal Shelter, which is why Jeanne Chancellor, president of Responsible Animal Owners of Tennessee (RAOT), is upset about rescue groups from surrounding counties importing pets into the city for adoption days.

Nearly every weekend, animal rescue groups from rural areas outside Shelby County meet at Memphis Petco and Hollywood Pet Star stores to find city homes for their animals. "We do hold adoption days in Fayette County," said Deloris Provow of Fayette County Animal Rescue. "But for the most part, the people here live on quite a few acres and they're not usually fenced. That's how we end up with most of these animals in the first place."

Chancellor said local animals should come first. She contended that many out-of-town groups have no-kill shelters in their communities, while the Memphis shelter often euthanizes animals within four days.

"It just really bothers me that we're killing thousands of animals a year because [they] are having to compete with animals from other places," said Chancellor. "I think Memphis should take care of its own problem before it starts taking on somebody else's."

Provow says local groups have no reason to be upset. "Both of the Petco locations have told me that they've asked other groups to come in and they don't do it," she said. "If we were bumping them from an event, that would be different, but we're not."


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