STARTING OVER WITH CHILDREN'S SERVICES 

DCS still faces obstacles, contempt charge.

Governor Phil Bredesen wasted little time moving forward after asking Department of Children s Services (DCS) Commissioner Mike Miller to step down Tuesday morning. On Thursday the governor named a seven-member group to develop an action plan and timetable to meet the requirements of the Brian A. settlement. “While we have 26 months left to comply with the terms of the Brian A settlement, I expect the department to be moving much more rapidly toward addressing some of these issues,” said Bredesen in a prepared statement. The seven members of the panel include three members of DCS, chairman Steve Norris of Mental Retardation Services, the governor s assistant legal counsel, and two other state department members. State representative Kathryn Bowers of Memphis also addressed Miller’s termination Thursday by commending the governor for his actions. “I am proud that [Bredesen] had the courage and fortitude to ask [Miller] to step down. It takes a very special person to admit to their mistakes or misjudgment,” she said in a prepared statement of her own. Information regarding Miller’s possible termination was discussed with Bowers and other legislators last week. She received the official announcement Tuesday morning, 30 minutes before the governor made the public announcement during a budget hearing. “I had some serious reservations about [Miller’s appointment] when it was first announced,” Bowers said, citing a long, negative history in a “department infested with problems.” She continued: “I always felt that the staff in that department was like mixing water with oil because of the makeup of people in former competing child care services now having to work together. And it still didn’t work, as you can see, because oil and water never mix.” The department was created in 1996 through a consolidation of five state departments with intentions to be dedicated entirely to child welfare and juvenile justice issues. While the new panel works to meet the settlement guidelines, it will also have to handle the latest blow dealt by plaintiffs’ attorneys in the case who Thursday filed a contempt of court motion against the governor and the commissioner. The motion, filed in the district court for the Middle District of Tennessee, alleges that DCS has failed to comply with requirements of the settlement and that no plan has been developed to implement the consent decree. The motion also calls for a hearing report date to present evidence, appointment of a special administrator to oversee the settlement agreement implementation plan, and a revision in the progress deadlines currently outlined in the settlement. Lawyers said their requests will be in addition to any groups or administrators put in place by Bredesen. The federal monitor’s report, released early this month, found DCS in full compliance with only 24 of 136 provisions. A state audit of the department, requested by Bowers, is scheduled for release on Tuesday.

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