Sheila McLaughlin reports:
Butler County Prosecutor Michael Gmoser threatened charges of obstructing official business against Commissioner Cindy Carpenter if she doesn’t stop interfering in children services cases.
He also accused her of trying to bully Children Services Director Jerome Kearns into doing what she wanted involving the case of a homeless pregnant woman who was living under the High Street bridge in Hamilton.
She told him to fire all of his top managers and said she wasn’t happy with Kearns’ performance, according to a transcript of the recorded call that Gmoser handed out to commissioners and reporters.
The issue came to a head at a heated Butler County commissioner’s meeting Monday. Gmoser asked commissioners to pass a resolution that directors of county agencies would be disciplined if they took direction from Carpenter.
Now, commissioners said they will hold hearings to determine what changes need to be made at the children services agency.
“If you persist in doing it having been fully apprised of the consequences, I don’t want the public to be surprised if I ask for a special prosecutor along the way to consider criminal conduct by you with respect to your interference of agencies in this county,” Gmoser said.
Carpenter, who has been accused of bullying employees since being elected in 2011, said she didn’t do anything wrong and she was only trying to coordinate services for the woman by enlisting other agencies to provide what Butler County wouldn’t.
She said it took the woman, whose other children have been removed from her care, seven trips to Butler County Job and Family Services to get food stamps. Kearns also heads Butler County Job and Family Services.
Gmoser said Carpenter’s involvement has caused a court-appointed attorney for the woman to quit and for a visiting judge to be appointed at Butler County’s expense “because of the meddling and interference of Commissioner Carpenter in a private case that she has no business sticking her nose into.”
“She is a commissioner first. She cannot be Florence Nightingale or Mother Theresa,” Gmoser said.
The prosecutor said he had tried to tell Carpenter privately to stay out of the case but she refused. So he brought it out publicly at Monday’s commissioner’s meeting.
“Apparently there is only one intelligent person in this room and that’s Commissioner Carpenter with respect to her opinions on what she thinks Jerome Kearns should be doing,” Gmoser said. “As a county commission she has to be very cautious about how she imposes those opinions on the agency directors and shes doesn’t get that yet.”
He said commissioners as a board of three members are supposed to act through the county administrator instead of going directly to the head of an agency.
Carpenter’s involvement in the homeless woman’s case could set the county up to be sued if something went wrong because she was acting outside the scope of her duties and authority as a commissioner, Gmoser said.
None of the commissioners made a motion to pass Gmoser’s resolution involving a ban on taking direction from Carpenter on matters or face punishment.
Carpenter was prepared for the verbal tussle with Gmoser. She tried to interrupt him several times, prompting Gmoser to raise his voice and demand that she allow him to finish.
Carpenter read a prepared statement saying she had discussions about the woman’s case over the last nine weeks with County Administrator Charles Young.
She called the woman’s situation “shockingly unacceptable” and said she was committed “to help change the system that created the cracks she fell through.”
Carpenter brought in a handful of supporters, including two advocates who were involved in the woman’s case and William Morrison, an ombudsman for Butler County Children Services. The pregnant woman at the heart of the exchange was at the commissioner’s meeting but did not identify herself.
Morrison, who looks into complaints by children services clients, said Carpenter asked him to look into the matter and talk to the pregnant woman. As a result he made a recommendation that a different caseworker be assigned and that the woman receive a specific service. He said Carpenter did not order or ask him to do anything in particular.
Morrison, who was hired as ombudsman after a Middletown boy, Marcus Fiesel, was killed by his foster parents in 2006, said Butler County Children Services “continues to need change and significant change.”
He said the agency has an outdated structure and its effectiveness can be measured by the number of children in foster care. He said handling of the woman’s case was typical.
“The case by Butler County Children Services standards was an average case. The average case in Butler County is still handled poorly,” Morrison said.