Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

May 30, 2014


Host: Ted Simons

Journalists’ Roundtable

  |   Video
  • Join us as reporters bring us up to date on the latest news in the Journalists’ Roundtable.
Guests:
  • Ben Giles - Journalist, Arizona Capitol Times
  • Howard Fischer - Journalist, Capitol Media Services
  • Mary Jo Pitzl - Journalist, Arizona Republic
Category: Journalists Roundtable   |   Keywords: roundtable, top stories,

View Transcript
Ted Simons: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon’s" Journalists’ Roundtable, a special session of the state legislature results in a new child welfare agency. That new agency is meeting with skepticism from the Attorney General’s office. This as the Attorney General’s reelection bid draws skepticism from his fellow Republicans. The Journalists’ Roundtable is next on "Arizona Horizon."

>> Arizona Horizon is made possible by contributions from the friends of Eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon’s" Journalists’ Roundtable. I’m Ted Simons. Joining us tonight Mary Jo Pitzl of "The Arizona Republic," Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services, and Ben Giles of "The Arizona Capitol Times."

Ted Simons: A special session of the legislature results in a new child welfare agency with a new director and a whole lot of new money. And a lot of new kind of confidence and optimism, how far does that go?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Through the campaign season I would say. But yesterday yes, a new day had dawned, a new sun had come up and the legislature sort of united in this big kumbaya and approved the policy bill that creates the new department of child safety and a lot of self- congratulations, that this is how we should work, this is bipartisan work and it's important and we all banded together to do this. There was one dissenting vote on the money part of it, Senator Kelli Ward cast the only vote, she had some issues with trying to tie some improvements to the release of money. She couldn't get those, so she voted against it.

Howard Fischer: I think that the good feelings continue until we have the first Lawyer Robert’s column posts July 1, posts new agency about a dead child, we have an agency that's refusing to provide records for something, despite the new transparency. By the end of the year, we'll start hearing did we do right or we'll have the other side of it, is are they taking kids from homes too easily? Which is a big fight.

Ted Simons: And we talked about it all week long, we've had you guys on here to kind of give us an update on this, and the pendulum, the enduring pendulum with child protective services in that do you keep the kids in the home, try to keep the family together, get the kid out of there in a dangerous situation? It's still going to exist.

Ben Giles: Exactly, and I think that's why a lot of lawmakers were trying to temper expectations yesterday. There was a lot of like clapping for themselves and patting each other on the back but there was a lot of this, this is a process, it's going to take time. We shouldn't expect child abuse and neglect to disappear overnight just because two bills were signed by the Governor yesterday. It's going to be three, four, maybe five years until some of the reforms that they tried to enact are going to take effect and people need to be patient and remember that. But the question is as this becomes a yearly topic how patient are lawmakers going to be after throwing $60 million in a special session and about a quarter of a million dollars at this agency over the last six years, how much patience is there going to be for real change to start taking effect?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Patience and I think inattentiveness, because I think it was Representative Mesnard and Senator Farnsworth said look you know these are tough issues. We didn't want to get dragged into them when we were first pulled into these issues years ago. It's a tough topic, it's not comfortable to hear about children being put in harm's way. So the question is there going to be a belief we fixed it, now Charles Flanagan and his department go off and do your thing and you don't need to come back to us for any more money or really much of anything until you get some stuff rolling.

Howard Fischer: I'll go a step farther. Legislature is filled with people who are A.D.D, you know very short attention span, we’ve solved that problem, we’ve stamped it out, what do we go onto next. You know leaving aside their own election, it will be the next crisis, the next issue, and we can only guess as to which agency will come in and be in the headlines next.

Ted Simons: Okay so Howard, let's get into general terms here. How does this new agency differ from the old agency?

Howard Fischer: Well, a lot of it is a question of what's supposed to be attitude, it's a culture change. Some of it is money. Look the fact is it's an $845 million spending plan. There should be more case workers, lower case load. The more important stuff I think is the idea of better supervision, better oversight, an investigations bureau so you don't have 6,500 cases that nobody found out about until by accident really it was discovered they hadn't been investigated. But they're talking about a culture change there and some of that comes with the money, with the supervision. I think that when people realize, yes the state is supporting us, will they stay? The bonuses at 18 and 36 months. You have more educated case workers. I think you have better results perhaps. So a lot of it is incremental.

Ted Simons: And the idea that Charles Flanagan now is the new director, he will report directly to the Governor's office. This is now a separate agency. Makes a difference but does it make a difference?

Ben Giles: And hopefully that is one of the layers of bureaucracy that's been eliminated by taking this out of D.E.S. and making its own independent agency. Some of the concern is, maybe there's faith in Governor Brewer and maybe there's faith in Director Flanagan to write the ship as much as they can, but there's going to be a new governor in office in January, there's going to be eventually a new director for this agency and that's why there were some questions about accountability, not just from a spending standpoint but just making sure that these cases are being handled efficiently and in a timely manner. But the other issue that this agency faces and I think the problem that, it makes this a three to five year fix is that it still has the burden of all the problems that CPS has faced for decades. It's got to fix those issues. There's still some, about 1,000 or so N.I. cases to close, there's a near 15,000 case back log of just inactive cases, ones that no one has touched for more than 60 days.

Howard Fischer: And 900 coming in a week and that's the issue there, and it's going to take a long time to figure it out.

Mary Jo Pitzl: And Ted to your question about you know how is this different, one of the things that the new law allows is they're going to create what they call a needs and risk assessment and if it all goes to form, this should allow case workers to have sort of a differential response to report so that it's not one size fits all. Not everything has to be investigated. Starting to sound a little bit like what a few steps removed from N.I. but they want to be able to tailor the solution to the individual situation instead of saying everything must be you know thoroughly investigated.

Ben Giles: And these are the things that are going to require the ongoing attentiveness of the legislature because there are still parts of this plan that are being developed. That protocol for how to handle a case when it's first reported to the hotline, also we're told that they're going to streamline training so that right now about 20% of the case workers at this agency aren't actually investigating cases because they're still being trained to do so. That process needs to speed up so we can start to eliminate the back log so they can actually investigate these 900 more cases as they come in every week. And these are things that are still in the process of being developed and need some oversight to make sure that they're going to work.

Howard Fischer: And there’s one more piece of this, which is prevention. Over the last five years, I think something like 200 million accumulated in prevention funds were cut during the hard times. Now, some of this is subsidized childcare to make sure parents don't have to leave the child in a hot car. Some of it is, you go into a family situation, they need some help, some counseling, you don't have the money for that so you wait until what, it's a $50,000 to take the kid out of the home situation and that's going to require ongoing attention too, hopefully, as the budget improves.

Ted Simons: Will those preventive services be addressed do you think next session or will that be a hot potato next go around?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Well, they will definitely be raised but whether they'll be addressed, you know, who knows what the legislature's going to look like next session and obviously and noted Governor Brewer's not going to be around. But the plan that she’s set forth is that well hey, we're putting all this money to get rid of this 15,000 case back log. As that goes away, the money that's been spent on there theoretically should shift over to prevention but that will take legislative action and we do have a fair number of lawmakers in the current legislature who are skeptical about you know is this money well spent?

Ted Simons: Alright, and now you mentioned skepticism. I know the Attorney General's office isn't all that happy about this because they're supposed to be representing state agencies and it sounds like this particular agency has got its own lawyers working for them.

Howard Fischer: Well, yes and no. To a certain extent, the legislation provides for Mr. Flanagan to have his own consigliere if you will, an attorney he can hire for certain advice. But I think some of the routine things, however, may still be handled by the A.G.'s office. The question comes down to, if you hire your own attorney, are you only going to get the advice that you want? Now, the other side of the equation has been that the Attorney General's office every time we've asked for public records, a lot of it has been us, the Attorney General’s office has taken a very conscious approach of we can't provide them with anything, we would run afoul of federal laws. Well, no. If you're not releasing the names, if you're not releasing identifying information, you can provide us details of abused children and beaten children and dead children. And the A.G.'s office has been a little reticent, which is why I think Flanagan thinks if he's going to have public support, he better darn well have that information out there.

Ted Simons: Is there a concern though, and it sounds like underneath the concerns of the A.G.'s office, that perhaps the DCS, as we’re calling it now, the DCS, built too much around Charles Flanagan?

Ben Giles: A little bit. Charles Flanagan does have this sort of overwhelming gung-ho personality and I think there's some lawmakers who have some concerns about that. Senator Bob Worsley said he met with Charles Flanagan and some of the Governor's staff on Wednesday night before these bills were voted out and signed and actually addressed that. That there's this relationship, direct relationship now, between the Director Flanagan and between the Governor's office. That is a strong relationship but again, Governor Brewer isn't going to be in office much longer. What's the relationship that Flanagan will have with the new governor or the new director, and should there be some sort of buffer between those two? Should Flanagan be reporting to someone else, perhaps the legislature?

Mary Jo Pitzl: But it’s hard for some national child welfare experts that we spoke to, it's hard to legislate how to do this. A lot does depend on the administrator, and so whether it's Charles Flanagan or whomever will at some point be his successor, you’ve got to leave, you can't nail everything down in statute or you're going to have cookie cutter kind of approach and that's been a problem for CPS.

Ted Simons: And that suggests tinkering as we move along.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Oh, yeah.

Ben Giles: And that is why a lot of the policy bill that creates this new agency gives the director some broad latitude to create policies to make changes within the agency and that's a little scary for some lawmakers who don't think there's enough accountability in the new agency, who want to see a return on this three quarter of a billion dollars investment into child safety that they're making, but on the flip side the argument is you need the flexibility to change the culture of that agency, to change the way cases are handled.

Howard Fischer: But it's all going to come down to where we started, which is, we're going to start seeing are the number of cases being reported reduced? Is the back log going away? Are we ending up with more dead children? And to the extent that it is a little love fest, a cult of personality if you will with Mr. Flanagan, that all goes away if he doesn't produce and produce really soon.

Mary Jo Pitzl: Yeah.

Ted Simons: Alright.

Mary Jo Pitzl: And to go back to the Attorney General's objections, another concern that that office had besides the issue of Flanagan getting an in-house council is they're saying hey, we need money, if you're going to put more case workers on there, the law says if you're going to take a kid out of their home, they've got to get before a judge within 72 hours. To do that you need an attorney, and they're arguing they need more resources to hire more attorneys because they believe more case workers will result in more court action. The counterargument is that well no if the state gets in there early enough and intervenes and has a way to do a differentiated kind of response maybe you don't have to remove a kid, therefore you can save some costs, but that remains to be seen as they again march through 15,000 cases you know that haven't had any attention for at least 60 days. There's going to be a couple of minefields in there.

Ben Giles: And that is a result that a lot of lawmakers would like to see, and I think a lot of the child welfare community in Arizona would like to see, is a move away from having a child removed from their home being maybe the go-to remedy for some of these cases. They would like to see preventive care increased so it never gets to that point, and then even then they would like to find more permanent solutions for a home for these children rather than having them in foster care and group homes which Arizona I think ranks highest among some states for the use of foster care.

Ted Simons: And we should mention reports are that the Governor’s office advise the Attorney General’s office to not make a problem over this, or political retribution will- do they need to give any political retribution to the attorney general right now?

Howard Fischer: Well look, Scott Smith wrote a little note to Rick Bistrow who is the Chief Deputy and basically said I don't mean to be a jerk, he actually used those words, but if you don't back off, it may still hurt you. Look, Horne's office, Horne himself has been under a lot scrutiny. We’ve talked about that week after week here. He's got some responses due on Monday, on the latest set of complaints about whether he was using his office for political purposes. You know, Horne doesn't need new attention or perhaps he's taking a position on DCS figuring if it falls apart, look I told you so and here he is focusing on something other than his problems.

Ted Simons: Well, his problems now include nine state lawmakers delivering a letter to the Attorney General's office asking him to please don't run again.

Howard Fischer: Ah come on! I’m sorry, look they are not saying -- it's one thing to have Barry Goldwater and John Rhodes go to Richard Nixon and say please resign for the good of the country because you know, you cannot govern, or because you've committed crimes. These lawmakers, Matt Salmon, the rest of them, I don't think they care one wit whether Tom Horne is guilty or not of the things accused. This is pure politics. We don't want to lose to god forbid have a Democrat Attorney General and that's all this is.

Ted Simons: We talked about this last week, the sense of Matt Salmon at least at the time, our Congressman Salmon, basically what he was worried about was turning the office over to the Democrats, when I would imagine most folks should be worried about the fact that these allegations are there, and the letter we should mention, the letter mentioned a dark cloud of impropriety hangs over you, your ability to serve the public is severely compromised.

Howard Fischer: But not so much that they should leave now.

Ted Simons: No, they don't want him to run for re-election.

Howard Fischer: But that's the point. If he could not run the office, then you say leave now. They're not saying that. They're saying complete the term because we’d like somebody to stay in there who's a Republican and we can count on, but just don't run again and pave the way for Mark Brnovich to be the Republican nominee.

Mary Jo Pitzl: It's an attempt to do death by a thousand cuts. I mean we will probably see calls like this weekly for a matter- throughout the summer. But you know, I said, I think Ben wanted to point out, not all lawmakers think this is a bad idea.

Ted Simons: Yeah, Ben please.

Ben Giles: For the same reasons that you have nine Republicans asking Horne to not run for re-election, you have just about every Democrat in the state voicing their support for Tom Horne, because they see him as the weaker of the two GOP candidates for that office, Mark Brnovich is considered to be someone who could win against Felecia Rotellini, the Democrat, if those two were the ones who wound up in the general election for the Attorney General. So Democrats are saying, please, Tom Horne, please stay in this race, win the GOP primary because then Felecia Rotellini can beat you and we've got a democrat in the statewide office.

Ted Simons: And we should mention that Attorney General Horne will be on the program here on Tuesday next week and he will be answering questions regarding, he was supposed to be on a couple of weeks ago but he wanted to wait to file his complaint and after that, so he will be on. Howie, a former Governor came to the Attorney General's aid in a way. What was that all about?

Howard Fischer: Well, the back story on this is there is an ad and if you've been watching TV at all, you've had a hard time missing it. Basically saying Tom Horne cheats on his wife, followed by the FBI, hit-and-run, questioning his parentage, the whole routine. It's been run as an educational campaign by a group --

Mary Jo Pitzl: Public Integrity Alliance.

Howard Fischer: Public Integrity Alliance, a wonderful sounding name. Fact is under federal law and under Arizona law, if you are not trying to influence an election, you don't have to register, you don't have to disclose the source of your money. Now, I think somebody may be trying to influence an election. But what I think doesn't matter. What matters is the courts have set up tests. You start off with magic words, vote for, vote against, support, oppose. But there's a long line of case law on this, look at the things running on Congress, call Congresswoman Kirkpatrick and tell her about something, same sort of ad, you're educating people on a person's voting record.

Ted Simons: So when former Governor Symington says this makes a mockery of campaign laws, no registration, no disclosure of donors, it's an unprecedented dark money campaign. Does it mean all that much?

Mary Jo Pitzl: Well, it certainly highlights the issue of dark money and I don't know if it's unprecedented because we had some dark money playing into ballot initiatives in 2012. But because he is a former governor, because he's Fife Symington, he’s raising the awareness level, and he has the ability to do that and point out that maybe this isn't all above board and if you've got a problem with Tom Horne, then just come clean, say who you are and stand behind your message.

Howard Fischer: Well it would have been nicer if the former governor had come out during the legislative session when they were tinkering with the idea of maybe doing some regulation and come down to the capitol and said, here I have an idea, I have a draft that we can close up some of the loopholes, but where was Fife?

Ted Simons: Do we know why he's bringing this up now? Are his folks aligning themselves with Horne and against Brnovich? What’s going on?

Howard Fischer: It's hard to know. I've got one theory that you'll remember Fife Symington was the first person to call on Evan Mecham to resign, and all of a sudden, when Fife was on the other foot, suddenly he said well that was bad. Maybe he feels that you should be allowed to have your issues played out before you're forced out.

Ted Simons: Alright, we have about 30 seconds left. Murphy is not running for re-election, he's running for Peoria city council.

Ben Giles: Yeah, he had a change of heart. He wants to go in a new direction and really what this is about is Representative Debbie Lesko choosing to run against him in District 21. Rick Murphy has some ongoing issues with CPS. He was investigated by the Peoria police department for allegations that he molested two children in his care. There were never any charges, the case is ongoing, but it was enough of a drag that Debbie Lesko thought maybe I better run so again we have a safe GOP seat, similar to Tom Horne, it's an easier race.

Mary Jo Pitzl: And interestingly probably his very last vote as a lawmaker was to vote to create the new child welfare agency.

Ted Simons: Well alright, we'll wrap it up right there. Good to have you all here, thanks for joining us.

Ted Simons: Monday on Arizona Horizon, the latest on the veteran’s affairs scandal, which started with allegations regarding the Phoenix V.A. hospital.

Ted Simons: And we’ll hear about a new wildfire prevention campaign for the summer. That's on Monday's Arizona Horizon. That is it for now, I'm Ted Simons, thank you so much for joining us. You have a great weekend.

>> "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the friends of Eight, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

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