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August 30, 2010

Host: Ted Simons

Child Protective Services

  |   Video
  • Arizona Republic columnist Laurie Roberts talks about instances when Arizona’s Child Protective Services fails to protect children in its care from further abuse. She discusses her struggle to gain access to records in cases of a fatality and near fatality that, if made public, can help hold the agency accountable by giving the public a better understanding of what went wrong.
  • Laurie Roberts - Arizona Republic
Keywords: children, protection, CPS, failure,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: A 4-month-old Chandler baby was taken to the hospital earlier this month. The baby was severely injured and burned by a cigarette. But what makes the story even more disturbing is that the baby was under the watch of the state's Child Protective Services. It's the kind of failure that Arizona Republic columnist Laurie Roberts has been reporting on for years. She's going after public records that might help explain what went wrong in this latest case. And she joins us now to talk about CPS and her efforts to hold the agency accountable. It's good to see you again. The last time we had you on this show, we talked about not this case, obviously, but this very same thing. What is wrong, what -- two-part question -- what's wrong with CPS, or are they doing the best they can under this current situation?

Laurie Roberts: That's the million dollar question. What is wrong with CPS in the same thing that's been wrong with them for years and years and years. I met with the director of CPS, Clarence Carter, not too long ago, and he described this culture of bunker mentality, where when there's a problem, you just bury it, you don't talk about it, you don't deal with it. When you do that you don't really fix what ails the system. Having said that, I also have to acknowledge that they are under a tremendous budget strain. But I tend to begin to get the feeling that they're going to say, “That's why all of these things are happening.” And yet when you see these children's bodies wash up on the shore and we get the chance to see what really happened by getting those records, I'm often not seeing cases where it looks to be so much about money as it looks to be about poor decision making.

Ted Simons: The bunker mentality, is it coming to be coming from mid level, high level, caseworkers?

Laurie Roberts: I don't believe it's coming from caseworkers. I believe that the culture in a place is set by those people who have been there a long time, and that would lead me to conclude that it's probably middle management. Which sort of just waits out director after director, each one of whom vows to change the culture of the place.

Ted Simons: there are 11,000 some-odd kids in the system right now, that the state is looking over, can the agency adequately look after these kids as it is currently configured, with the people currently in position?

Laurie Roberts: Hard to say, because we can't see into the agency. Despite the talk of transparency, there is still a trash bag across the wall of the place, so to speak. I would have to question why there were so many kids in there. I hear from grandparent after grandparent who has custody of their children, or their grandchildren because their own children are addicted to meth, which is a huge part of the equation in this whole thing. And time after time after time, those kids are taken away from them when mommy gets clean for 10 or 15 minutes and they're back in the home, and I wonder if you just don't at some point cut some of those things off, allow the grandparents to take off with the children and get them out of the whole system. Are we looking at, in other words, the right cases, or are we looking at the cases that are wrong and thus missing?

Ted Simons: That sounds systemic.

Laurie Roberts: It could be. We can't see. Again, the trash bag is over the wall.

Ted Simons: The idea of budget cuts hitting the agency itself, hitting DPS, the idea of budget cuts to other services making for more cases because there are kids and parents in situations that become more difficult because of fewer services-- overall budget cuts, the impact, is that -- are we starting to see the results of some of these cuts with some of these kids?

Laurie Roberts: I don't know that we're starting to see them. I think we've seen them all along. Again, the stories of these children dying are no different than the stories that we were telling in the flush times. Did that play a role in little Jacob the 6-year-old who was killed and we don't know because we haven't seen the records to see what happened in that case. But certainly they've got some budget issues, and shame on the legislature for not giving them what they need. This particular director has an opportunity I think should he have the guts to do it, to both speak truth to power above, and try to get the people below him to change the culture and really make some real changes in that place.

Ted Simons: We've had Mr. Carter on the program, when he first started. So he wasn't quite up to speed on some of the things as I'm sure he is now. You've talked to him as well. Does he seem like he gets it?

Laurie Roberts: He gets it that there's a problem, and he is probably I would guess not going to allow anybody to say, all of this is happening because of the budget cuts and if we just had enough money everything would be wonderful and children and parents would be reunited and wouldn't it be a wonderful world. I think he gets that. What I don't know about him yet is, will he be willing to tell his boss, the governor, that we've gone too far in cuts to this agency and it's time to restore some of this money and give them what they need. But if Mr. Carter were asking my advice, which he hasn't done, nobody asks my advice, I would tell him before you go and look for that money, do a good audit of that agency to find out how you're spending the money that you have. There's no doubt that they've been cut and that they've been hurt. But I hear from some people in the agency that question whether the money is well spent now, as it is spent and whether there's waste in there still.

Ted Simons: Wasn't -- aren't there supposed to be standards as to how many cases certain caseworkers should have? And those standards have been blown by a long time ago.

Laurie Roberts: They standards have never been met, ever.

Ted Simons: It does seem systemic. You've got too few people handling too many cases, you've got poor decisions running rampant over there.

Laurie Roberts: I do think it is. I do think that it is a systemic problem that they've got. It is because of the budget? Partially. But I don't -- I think we would be doing the kids of this community a disservice to just say, “Oh, if they just had more money everything would be fine.” Because every time one of these bodies rolls up to shore and you pull these records, you find just some breathtakingly astonishing, bad decisions that have been made and nobody has caught it. And I can give you some examples.

Ted Simons: Well, I -- we don't have time for the examples, though we've read about your examples and it's difficult reading. It's probably difficult for to you report on as well. That being said, it's also difficult to get information out of this agency. What is going on there? Why is this happening? Why is it so -- a fight just to get the basic information?

Laurie Roberts: Because you can't get into a bunker. This is the problem. They control the information, it appears, and I say “they”, I don't know who they is over there, but I’ll give you an example. I'm trying to get the records on this little baby, 4 months old, who showed up at the hospital near death, 14 broken bones, and her arm used as an ashtray. And she is in the hands of a CPS safety monitor. The question is a simple one -- how did this child wind up to be with this safety monitor, and what steps did CPS take to check the background of both her and her live-in boyfriend to make sure they were appropriate? Is that an unreasonable question? All I get from them is, “We can't even acknowledge that this child was part of us.” But then I quote them the law. It doesn't matter. They say, you can't prove it's a near fatality. The police report quotes the doctors as saying the child was brought in a near death incident involving non-accidental trauma. I don't know -- so I say, what does it take for you to understand this is a near fatality and thus the information should be available? We would have to have a doctor sign a medical form. It's bureaucracy. Answer the question.

Ted Simons: We're running out of time here, and I'm so sorry about that, because I have so more questions. With this particular case, didn't we have a special session in the legislature, haven't we had a -- laws pass and amendments passed to laws--to address this transparency problem?

Laurie Roberts: They're ignoring it. We have sent a demand letter to them this week saying follow the law. Give us the records. Even former House Speaker Kirk Adams contacted me today after reading a blog I had written about the fact that we were having difficulty with this, and he was one of the two sponsors, along with Jonathon Peyton, to open up those records and make it more transparent in the hope that when you can see things, things change. People are held accountable, systems are held accountable and things change. And he said to me it's right back to where it was. This is very disappointing. They're not following the law.

Ted Simons: All right. Well, thank you very much, great job reporting, thanks for keeping us informed on this, because it's just devastating to read about this. You just can’t make heads or tails on this.

Laurie Roberts: Well they’re never going to save them all. The question that I would like them to answer is, “Have you done your damnedest to save the ones you can, and have you done your jobs?”

Ted Simons: Alright Laurie good to have you thank you for joining us.

U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke’s Resignation

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  • In the wake of a botched gun trafficking operation conducted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona Dennis Burke resigned from the office he held since 2009. Former U.S. Attorney Jose de Jesus Rivera discusses Burke’s resignation and the job he did as U.S. Attorney.
  • Jose de Jesus Rivera - Former U.S. Attorney
Category: Government   |   Keywords: us, attorney, burke, resign,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: Good evening, and welcome to "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. The U.S. attorney for the district of Arizona, Dennis Burke, resigned today from the office he's held since 2009. The move appears to be tied to a gun trafficking operation that went wrong. Operation "Fast and Furious" was conducted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. It wound up sending guns from Arizona to criminals in Mexico and last December, one of those weapons was used to kill a U.S. border agent in our state. A congressional panel is looking into the operation and Burke had testified about his office's role in operation "Fast and Furious" just two weeks ago. There were other personnel moves today in the Justice Department, including the reassignment of the ATF's Interim Director. Joining me now to talk about this is Jose de Jesus Rivera, a former U.S. Attorney for Arizona who held the post during the Clinton administration. It’s good to have you here. Thanks for joining us.

Jose de Jesus Rivera: Thanks for inviting me.

Ted Simons: The resignation today, was it a surprise?

Jose de Jesus Rivera: Yes. Absolutely.

Ted Simons: How come?

Jose de Jesus Rivera: Dennis has done a good job. He's also a Democrat, but he came into this office with a number of things on his plate, he handled them efficiently, with honor, with knowledge, and very transparent in the moves he did. I thought he was doing an excellent job for the amount of controversy and the amount of issues that are presently existing.

Ted Simons: And I want to get to some of those cases because there were a lot of things on his plate, but regarding this gun trafficking, "Fast and Furious," obviously a little set-up, any more we can talk about? Can you give an overview, what went wrong, what happened here?

Jose de Jesus Rivera: I don't know anything of the inside of how it worked because I've been out of the office for a while. But I think that if you look at the genesis of "Fast and Furious," it was I think it probably occurred after an inspector general report that complained about the fact that ATF was not going after bigger people, but only straw people buying the guns. I think somebody at some point in time made a decision that they were going to go higher up and try to go into the cartel into Mexico. And it didn't work. We've obviously seen with the tragic events that happened with Border Patrol Terry. The concept I think is a good idea. The implementation may have had some -- may leave something to be desired, but I think that's what happened.

Ted Simons: So basically the concept was, you get straw buyers, the little guys who buy the guns and follow them to the bigger guys, and find out where the drug trafficking and gun running operations go. Did the ATF just simply not have enough resources to do what they wanted to do?

Jose de Jesus Rivera: That would be pure speculation on my mind. I'm not sure if they terminated early, I'm not sure what the game plan was in terms of what -- any cooperation from Mexico, if you're going to trace them the trace goes beyond the border. It goes into the country of Mexico. And it's crucial that you get cooperation from Mexico to be able to trace these guns. I'm not sure to what extent they had that.

Ted Simons: Dennis Burke provided legal guidance on the operation. What does that mean?

Jose de Jesus Rivera: The U.S. Attorney has changed substantially since the years -- when I was an assistant U.S. attorney in the '70s, there was 12 of us. Now there's probably about 250 lawyers in the district, both throughout the state of Arizona, which is the district of Arizona. It's a complex district. It involves Native American issues, fraud, it involves anything, any federal law that's being violated, you have primary responsibility. You will always have a significant amount of Native American issues, a significant amount of border issues. It is the U.S. Attorney's decision whether to file these lawsuits or not. In the old days, the first input the U.S. Attorney would have is when an agent would bring the case to you. Now I think it's progressed, if you see you're doing something significant, you give them guidance. The agency guides in terms of what they can or cannot do with the direction of the investigation. So you give like above, a mile high kind of guidance to these people, and I think that's what the U.S. Attorney was doing in “Fast and Furious”.

Ted Simons: Basically if an agency says this is our plan, this is what we plan on doing you can -- it's not your plan, you don't implement the plan, but you do say, “Here's what you can and can't do, should and should not do?” In general?

Jose de Jesus Rivera: In general I think that's an accurate assessment. It's not necessarily the agency-- it could be your--your case load comes from a number of people. It's generated within the state, it can be generated by the different agencies, they can regenerate locally from these agencies, it can be generated from D.C., it could be generated by an Attorney General Director from the Department of Justice. You've got to mix all that with a limited number of resources you have to be able to accomplish that.

Ted Simons: So with that in mind, and if you can, from a bit after distance here, how did Dennis Burke handle the fallout from the investigation, from the controversy, from what we eventually found out?

Jose de Jesus Rivera: I think he handled it the way he's handled his whole term in office: with honor, and transparency. He didn't hide the ball, he didn't try to hide the role of the United States Attorney's Office, he didn't try -- he did not try to hide the fact he this attorney was giving legal advice. When the controversy occurred he owned up to it. He owned up to the fact the U.S. Attorney's Office was given advice, he owned up to the fact one of the guns was used in the death of a patrolman. I think that nobody else could have handled it better than Dennis did.

Ted Simons: With that in mind, some people suggest he's a fall guy in all this. What do you think?

Jose de Jesus Rivera: You know, I think the decision that was made, Dennis made it. I don't -- I think he came to a point where there were so many things happening, and I think it was his decision that you needed fresh blood to look at these with different eyes. How the nation will perceive it as to whether he's a fall guy is a different story, but I don't think he's a fall guy for anybody, or ever will be a fall guy for anybody.

Ted Simons: We mentioned how much he personally has dealt with in the office, the Jared Loughner case, you’ve got border issues, you’ve got the Arpaio investigations, a lot of stuff going on here.

Jose de Jesus Rivera: Right. I mean SB 1070, all the Arpaio investigations, the Tom Horne attack on voting rights issue. I can tell you as much as I'd like to say I handled the complexities that Dennis had, I don't think there's been a U.S. Attorney in the history of Arizona that when he walked in had the number of cases, the complexity of the cases and they go through the whole spectrum. They're not all criminal, some of them are civil rights work, which I think the U.S. attorney, he did admirably stepping into that -- some of them are things that were thrust upon him by state of Arizona, some were thrust upon him by the Department of Justice. I think he handled them all well.

Ted Simons: If he handled them all that well, and this situation providing legal guidance and not necessarily -- I don't know how much he oversaw this particular operation, we really don't know that for sure, are you surprised he didn't stay and fight?

Jose de Jesus Rivera: You know, I think it -- I've told people who have asked me about this job, it's the greatest job in the world. You do more good for people than any other job I’ve ever seen. If you want to, you could stay there forever. On the other hand it's like the president. It wears on you and it tears on you, because you're looking at ten different problems every hour, not a day, but ten different problems every day. And I think that to his credit, he didn't want this issue to overwhelm what that office is. He wanted this office to continue to do the good work that they're doing, and not be caught up in the controversy of what he did or did not do with “Fast and Furious”.

Ted Simons: It's good to have you here. Thank you so much for joining us.

Jose de Jesus Rivera: Thank you.

Water Report

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  • ASU Morrison Institute Senior Research Fellow Grady Gammage Jr., discusses the Institute’s newly released report “Watering the Sun Corridor” and what it says about a sustainable water future for Arizona.
  • Grady Gammage, Jr. - ASU Morrison Institute Senior Research Fellow
Category: Environment   |   Keywords: water, ASU, sustainability,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: ASU's Morrison Institute is out with a new report on water sustainability in Arizona. The report addresses the fear that Arizona's major population centers might not have enough water to meet future demands. Watering the Sun Corridor takes a look at trends and opportunities for sustainable water supply in Arizona's metropolitan area. Here to tell us more about the report is Grady Gammage Jr. a senior research fellow for the Morrison Institute for public policy. Good to see you again. Thanks for joining us.

Grady Gammage, Jr.: Good to be here Ted.

Ted Simons: Basics here, do we have enough water now?

Grady Gammage, Jr.: Yes. We have enough water now, as long as we're careful, as long as we realize we're going to have to make some tough choices going into the future. But we're in reasonably good shape. In part what we wanted to do in this report is kind of dispel the notion that a lot of people have that there isn't any water to support Phoenix and Tucson. And that this many people shouldn't be living here to start with. It just doesn't rain enough, so it's a bad place to live. That's a perception I think happens throughout the eastern part of the United States. And it's really inaccurate.

Ted Simons: Why it is inaccurate?

Grady Gammage, Jr.: Because cities by definition are concentrations are people drawing on a larger area for their resources. New York City doesn't get enough rain for its water supply. It comes from upstate. Everywhere is like that. What's different about Phoenix and Tucson, the Sun Corridor, which is Phoenix, Tucson, and Pinal County, is that we bring water from farther away. And there have been reports that come out that criticize us because we bring water from so far away, namely the Colorado River, which is water from the Rockies. But truth is that probably makes us more sustainable because it means that we're -- we have a fairly large surface water supply, which is a renewable resource as opposed to ground water, and we have water that comes from central Arizona through SRP and throughout the Rockies, and those are different climatic zones, though they're related.

Ted Simons: The engineering process of getting water from the Colorado River to major metropolitan areas, is that in and of itself sustainable with a growing population, with what looks to be climate change, most scientist would say that something is going on out there they can argue back and forth but most agree that climate is changing, it's getting warmer, the drought is more likely possibility for Arizona. Again, we can mechanically get the water from A to B, is that mechanical process sustainable?

Grady Gammage, Jr.: Yeah. Is the canal going to be full, the shorthand way of asking that question. And one of the things we do in the report is we talk about what's unusual about the arid west is the variability of the water that's available. Because of the highly variable nature of rain and snow and the distances from where it comes, but what we've done in Arizona is to build pretty elaborate engineering systems to get water from different place and to store water in really large quantities. We typically have many years worth of storage availability. SRP's full right now, the Colorado is not, although Lake Mead is coming up probably 50 feet here as a result this year. So we've got a lot of diversified bases. We did build a climate change assumption into this report, and that's tricky, because there isn't a lot of firm agreement on exactly how much of a risk climate change poses. There's a pretty firm agreement that it poses as risk. We built a 15% decrease in the water supply into the numbers in the report.

Ted Simons: What about things like agriculture, what about water rights, legal issues? Those are variables as well. How are they measured?

Grady Gammage, Jr.: Let me talk about those separately for a minute. One of the things that I hope people will take away and understand if they read the report is, right now there's still more than half of the water supply of the Sun Corridor, the three urban counties in Arizona, is still going to agriculture. That's the biggest reason why we're in pretty good shape. We can redeploy that water that goes for farming to urban populations. We ought to think about that.

Ted Simons: I was going to say, should we?

Grady Gammage, Jr.: That's a good question. We have no real dialogue or debate about that going on in Arizona. There are lots of places where preserving agriculture is a public policy. Our public policy is, water moves to urban uses. I think we ought to begin to rethink that. And think about trying to keep some amount of agriculture in the mix for a bunch of reasons. But the biggest one, it gives you water management flexibility. In times of drought, you cannot plant row crops, vegetables, alfalfa, cottons, so on and use that water for other purposes. And then when you got lots of water again you can replant stuff. That flexibility has preserved us through this drought time in a way it -- Las Vegas hasn't been able to do.

Ted Simons: Water rights, legal issues?

Grady Gammage, Jr.: Yeah. In this report we stayed away from it. And the reason is, it's a -- lawyers can complicate anything and they’ve complicated water about as much as possible. This report tries to look at the aggregate water supply for the Sun Corridor. And look at water rights with the expectation that sooner or later that stuff sorts itself out.

Ted Simons: Does the report look at demand for water and use of water should the price of water, the cost of water increase as many people think it should as a conservation method at the very least?

Grady Gammage, Jr.: It does. It looks at all those things. There's a whole section about use that looks at how relatively successful we've been, just through education methods, and incentives in bringing our per capita water consumption down. However, there are some new figures about urban consumption of water. We have tended to use what we refer to as GPCD, gallons per capita per day, as a proxy for urban water use. The truth is there’s a bunch of urban uses that are not captured in that. And when you built that in, when you build in our supply assumptions, and our use statistics, we don't have as much water as we've been saying we did. For a long time water managers, and I probably have been on your show and said we probably could support 12 million people. I don't think that's the case anymore. I think that a reasonable number if we get rid of agriculture, it's probably less than 10 million.

Ted Simons: Interesting. If you keep agriculture, you got some concerns.

Grady Gammage, Jr.: And if you keep agriculture, you're making a choice. You've got to decide, we're going to preserve agriculture but we can support fewer people. The other question about lifestyle choices, going forward, we have to start thinking about what with do about landscaping. And the extent to which we continue to use a lot of water in landscaping.

Ted Simons: OK. We've got to stop you right there. Real quickly, how can we find the report?

Grady Gammage, Jr.: The report is available in hard copy from the Morrison Institute, but the quickest way is to go on the Morrison Institute’s web site, which is Morrison Institute.ASU.EDU.

Ted Simons: Alright, very good. Grady, good to see you again.

Grady Gammage, Jr.: Good to be here.

Ted Simons: And that is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening.