^ Commissioner Olga Roche : not to blame for DCF budget cuts and out of date agency practices

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The six major candidates seeking to be our State’s next Governor sure didn’t plan to have the department of families and Children (DCF) as a huge campaign issue, but that’s what it now is. The facts emerging from the DCF’s failed oversight of 5-year old Jeremiah Oliver cry out. Oliver’s social worker missed several mandated visits to his home but put “visit made’ into her case log; and her supervisor confirmed that the visits were made. When Oliver disappeared –months later, he has yet to be found — the failure and cover up left the DCF’s higher-ups nowhere to hide.

Yet are the DCF top guns to blame ? How was the agency;s head, Olga Roche, to know that a social worker and supervisor in the Fitchburg DCF office had falsified logs and failed their jobs ? Roche can’t personally micro-manage every employee in every DCF office. At some point we have to grasp that this DCF failure is structural and to propose serious reform. Nor can we blame Governor Patrick much. His plate has been heaped with major spending fights in transportation and education and with monitoring the contentious casino licensing process as it works through the gaming Commission. Line Departments like DCF and Public welfare, governed by State Law chapter 119, require oversight by the Governor’s secretary of administration and finance; and to my knowledge, no one has suggested that Glen Shor has misfired his oversight of the DCF. Nonetheless, one notes that in his job description as posted on his page at http://www.mass.gov, Shor doesn’t list DCF in his itemization of key responsibilities:

“Glen Shor serves as Secretary of the Executive Office for Administration and Finance. He is responsible for managing state finances, including preparation of the governor’s budget recommendation, development of a state capital budget, managing budgetary activities across state government, and developing long-term fiscal policy. He also oversees the state agencies that provide core administrative services in the Commonwealth, including the collection of state taxes, the administration of IT services and the management of human resources in state government.

“Prior to his appointment as Secretary in January of 2013, Glen Shor served as Executive Director of the Massachusetts Health Insurance Connector Authority. While at the Connector, Shor oversaw the programs, policies, operations and staff of the Commonwealth’s official public health insurance Exchange – a cornerstone of the state’s historic health care reform law of 2006 and the model for health insurance Exchanges nationwide under the landmark federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.”

No one can doubt that collection of taxes and administration of information technology are crucial state governance tasks; or that management of “human resources” — state employees — is a non-stop matter that can make stinky headlines if a day of monitoring goes missing. Still…

…here we are, with a scandal and anecdotal talk of many other missed visits by social workers and slack oversight by DCF managers, and the blame machine is already whipping up pies to the face of DCF’s higher-ups. I find the furor misdirected.


^ DCF failures will surely be discussed at a social workers’ conference at Boston College on February 24th that has Charlie Baker as its featured speaker. (See UPDATE below)

Has anyone bothered to notice that, since 2009, the DC budget has fallen by 100 million dollars ? this, during years when our State’s population of homeless and of families in need has increased mightily.

If we want to make events like the Jeremiah Oliver failures less common, we need to restore the 100 million dollars cut from the DC budget — the Governor’s $ 9.2 million budget increase hardly matters ! The DCF needs to monitor social worker visits not in log books but via the internet; to install check-in software in social workers’ cell phones, so that managers know where they are during work hours; to give DCF managers software and smart phones, fully applicationed, so that case loads can be managed, on an ongoing basis, in real time. We need to reset DCF process so that Olga Roche — or whoever succeeds her as DCF commissioner — has on her schedule an in-person meeting at each DCF area office on a revolving basis, with Roche on the road, like a Circuit Judge making rounds, managing the entire DCF not from an office in a Boston State administration building but from an iPad in a state car serving as her mobile headquarters.

Political campaigns operate that way in this year 2014. Why not State governance ?

It’s more important that Roche have a state car and a driver than that she have a large office in a state building. It’s more effective that she hold monitoring sessions — including questions and answers and monitoring reviews — at each local DCF office than that she await reports coming to her from the managers of those offices. After all, social workers have to visit the children whose cases are theirs to oversee. Why shouldn’t Roche, or her successor, do likewise ? DCF is an agency that operates by visits. This should be its strategy top to bottom, bottom to top.

It will be interesting to hear and read the DCF reform plans that each of the major Governor candidates presents to the voters. If they do present one.

Meanwhile, Commissioner Roche is reportedly slated to receive a $ 10,500.00 pay raise.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

UPDATE 02/17/14 10.30 AM : Charlie Baker, the likely Republican nominee for Governor, has called for Olga Roche’s resignation. Many — but not all — GOP legislators have also made this call. To me it seems a bit premature and quite misdirected; but perhaps Baker will explain.



^ the man to beat : Dan Hunt

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Five Democrats seek nomination to become the next State Representative from the Dorchester-based District that Marty Walsh gave up to take office as Boston mayor. Dan Hunt, John O’Toole, Liam Curran, Paul “PJ” McCann, and Gene Gorman have been campaigning for weeks now — Hunt, longer than that — in the coldest winter we’ve seen in decades, in the snow and often in the dark. They’re “knocking doors,” as they put it; “standing out” — sign-holding — at major intersections with as many supporters as can take single-digit temperatures; doing “meet and greets” at local pubs; raising funds at what Dan Hunt calls a “friend-raiser”; and “getting on the phones” to reach the District’s “super voters” — those who always vote, including in the District’s one Quincy precinct, assuming they know there’s an election going on.

Last night the race got even more serious, as all five men spoke and answered questions at the Cedar Grove Civic Association’s candidate Forum. Cedar Grove — the part of Neponset that borders Quincy — isn’t just another Dorchester neighborhood; in last year’s Mayor election, almost 75 % of the area’s voters actually voted, by far the highest percentage in all Boston. No surprise, then, that about 70 people showed up to listen, or that State Representative Dan Cullinane, from the District across Granite Street, was in the room, as was State Senator Linda Dorcena-Forry.

For candidates at the very local level, even in a varsity political neighborhood — and Dorchester is super varsity, a candidate Forum presents a challenge. You must be ready to speak well, in a voice confidently loud, to give opening and closing remarks not read from notes, and to talk with appreciable knowledge about the major issues. So it was at Cedar Grove.

Gene Gorman, a professor at Emerson college, spoke eloquently and to the point on almost every question asked.

Dan Hunt, generally considered the likeliest to win, spoke with steady confidence about his readiness and with skilled nuance about issues not cookie-cutter simple. Proudly he listed four union endorsements, including the big one : Service Employees International Local 1199, whose work for Marty Walsh is thought by many to have made the difference in last year’s Mayor election,


Liam Curran ^ looked and sounded the eager, even passionate young attorney that he is, in the City of Boston law department. He has the support of Mayor Walsh’s brother and mother — and has made sure everyone knows it — and over and over he cited Marty Walsh’s priorities as the agenda he would adhere to. Like Walsh, Curran was a Labor Union member –Laborers’ local 223. This too he made known.

John O’Toole, himself a past president of the Cedar Grove Civic Association, spoke strongly about neighborhood issues and gave a shout out, by name, to many in the room with whom he has worked with on various neighborhood concerns over the past 20 years. O’Toole, too, has labor support, more Locals than have endorsed Hunt, but at the Forum he named none.

“PJ” McCann — speaking in a voice soft and conversational, hard to hear easily in the long, large meeting room — stressed his experience drafting legislation, collaboratively with many agencies, and his work at the City of Boston’s Public Health Commission.

It has been frustrating for me to pin down any of the five to specifics of major issues facing Massachusetts : transportation funding; education reform and funding; curbing urban violence. Last night, Cedar Grove’s President Sean Weir had no better luck. Granted that the first two issues are complex and coated in controversy, and that the third issue isn’t really a matter of legislation; it would still have been nice to hear what the five will work for by way of funding, and where that funding will come from. You can be sure that the word ‘taxes’ graced no one’s lips all night long.

All five men support raising the minimum wage, and those who addressed the matter of unemployment insurance give-backs all said that it was irrelevant to raising the wage. But Speaker Robert DeLeo, who controls all legislation because he appoints all House committee members, says that the two are indeed connected and that minimum wage legislation must connect them ; and no one, at the Forum, or in conversations with me, has faced the fact. We are left to assume that each of the five, if elected, will make the District’s opinion heard — and then vote the Speaker’s way.

That said, the true importance of this election lies not in legislative specifics but in the loudness and confidence of the voice that will be the 13th Suffolk’s going forward. Can any of these men be a next Marty Walsh, a major voice in labor — or other — issues, a sought-after endorsement in city and state elections, even a potential Mayor ? Because this, not positions on the issues, is the standard for the District’s voters. They are accustomed to having their representative be a center of influence and attention, and they vote in large numbers seeking it. Everybody I speak to expects 4,000 to 6,000 votes to be cast on March 4th Primary day.

The only question is, what KIND of center of attention do these voters want ? Only two of the five men seem to recognize this question as the race’s big decider : Liam Curran and Dan Hunt. Curran has lost no opportunity to pronounce himself the most Marty Walsh of the candidates; and having the mayor’s brother and Mom in his corner gives his pronunciamento some truth. He has pushed the point perhaps too far. Mayor Walsh early on announced himself staying completely out of the race : Curran’s message, has, say some, forced the mayor to embrace Dan Hunt, who is said to be his preferred choice anyway. A day after Curran made major publicity of a photograph taken of him with Walsh’s brother and mother, Mayor Walsh insisted, at a Labor breakfast, on having his picture taken with Hunt, a man very different.

Hunt doesn’t look like Marty, doesn’t sound like him, has a personal history all his own. He grew up in a political household — his Dad Jim Hunt held administrative positions in Boston City governance for decades. As he said at the Forum, he was “sign holding even as a six year old” and “a lifetime, so far, of political and state House service, as staff to two committees.” Not many election hopefuls in today’s America would tout long staff service in government. But a hopeful who understands that Dorchester voters want exactly that makes it a major closing remark.

At Cedar Grove, Hunt sounded confident, commanding, with no equal among the five on that score; and when he cited that Senator Dorcena Forry has endorsed him, it seemed a knockout punch. Had she really done so ? I asked him that question after the Forum, and, yes, he told me, she has in fact endorsed him. That’s quite a step for her to take in a five way local primary. But it makes sense, because of all the five, Hunt alone spoke like a voice of clout who can back up his claim.


John O’Toole ^ stressed his long history of neighborhood activism, and commands maybe the largest Labor contingent ; all good ; but Labor is split in this race, and neighborhood activist isn’t the office being elected. Liam Curran emphasized how Marty Walsh he is ; but the voters want a voice unique as Walsh, not his duplicate. Gene Gorman has all the issues command that anyone could ask ; but a policy wonk can be the Representative’s issues person. Then there’s PJ McCann : respected, articulate, Harvard graduate, experienced in legislation, with a public heath issues priority vital to city life today, McCann seems more City Councillor than State Representative, a voice among collegial voices, not an advocate going to a place where more are strangers or opponents than allies.


^ likeable, smart, and gentle : “PJ” McCann at the Cedar Grove Forum

Hunt started first, raised $ 59,365 before the special election was called, and — so he said to me — “has personally knocked on the door of every super voter in the district.” 4,000 doors in two months time, I asked ? “Yes,” he said. And : “I’ve attended every civic association meeting at least twice,. No neighborhood association is too small, I visit them all.”


^ door-knocking at night in a winter campaign ; Dan Hunt with voter list in hand

Yes, the race continues. Yes, John O’Toole, especially, is working to catch up. Yet the race looks Hunt’s to lose. Basic work every waking hour, no mistakes, much money, the largest social media presence, strong support from most of the District’s leaders — including Bill Walczak, who ran for Mayor and got 136 votes in his crucial, Savin Hill precinct even with Walsh on the ballot; City Clerk Maureen Feeney, who was Dorchester’s City Councillor; and Supreme Court Clerk Maura Doyle — and a resume that fits the image. Little wonder that this election is looking like a Dan Hunt victory on March 4th

— Mike Freedberg / for Here and Sphere


^ “freezin’ for a reason,” says John O’Toole, door knocking in savin Hill.