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Gregg calls for ouster of DCS head

Cites reported violation of department’s conduct code

– The Democrat running to be Indiana’s next governor called for the removal of Department of Child Services director Jim Payne on Sunday after details emerged about Payne’s personal involvement in a neglect case involving his grandchildren.

The Indianapolis Star reported Sunday that even as he ran DCS, Payne became immersed in the case, which began in 2010 when his grandchildren were taken from their mother by his agency as she was locked in a divorce and custody battle with Payne’s son.

Payne helped his son’s lawyer draft a legal brief critical of his own agency’s work when DCS decided to give the children back to their mother, the newspaper reported. During a time when Payne was given custody of the children, he received transportation assistance from the agency despite earning more than $130,000 and having a state-issued vehicle. The Code of Conduct that Payne instituted at DCS also forbids employees and top officials from “personal and private interests” such as intervening in a case involving relatives, the Star reported.

“Let me be clear. Judge Payne needs to be removed from his position today,” said Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Gregg. “The well-being of our children cannot wait until a new administration takes over in January. I am calling on Governor (Mitch) Daniels to ask for Judge Payne’s immediate resignation.”

Jane Jankowski, spokeswoman for Daniels, said the governor was not going to comment Sunday on the story about Payne. She also said he would not respond to Gregg’s statement because it would be engaging in a partisan debate – something he said he would not do when he accepted the job as the next president of Purdue University.

Daniels also said then, though, that he reserved the right to correct the record if in the context of a campaign something inaccurate or unfair was said about his administration.

Efforts to reach Payne on Sunday were unsuccessful.

DCS released an email from Chief of Staff John Ryan on Sunday in which he summarized how the agency approached the sensitive case by saying “we were crystal clear that we had to approach this situation in a manner that definitively separated Judge Payne’s professional role from that of his personal role as a grandfather.”

The agency made phone calls to Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio and Illinois to ask if any of their child-protective agencies could take the case. No one could do so but Illinois recommended two retired, but licensed Illinois case workers to handle the case. DCS hired one of them to take over the case from June 2010 to May 2011.

DCS also released written answers that Payne provided the Star in which he said, “It was difficult to see our children and grandchildren go through this matter, and it is nothing short of despicable for The Indianapolis Star to profit from their difficulties. We have not seen our grandchildren since Christmas due to a custody case. So, to even imply that I had any professional influence on this case is preposterous.”

Daniels appointed Payne – a Marion County juvenile court judge – in 2005 to reform Indiana’s long-troubled child welfare system. After years of being the face of the agency, Payne in recent months has avoided the spotlight. He delivered good news about a drop in annual abuse and neglect deaths in February but since then has allowed Ryan to take the lead.

Ryan, for instance, announced additional child protection spending in June, accepted criticism of DCS’ flawed hotline in August and announced a new plan this month to aid mentally ill children.

Gregg said in a press statement that he has been speaking out for months about the broken Department of Child Services and promising to fix it if elected governor.

“In February of this year, I wrote a letter to the editor saying that the department needed to be fixed, and that started with removing Judge Payne as Director. In July of this year, I released my plan for fixing DCS by creating the Office of the Child Advocate, re-instituting preventative mental health care and promoting adoption throughout the state. Again, I called for Judge Payne’s removal.”

nkelly@jg.net

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