Friends and supporters of a toddler who drowned in a pond in April under the “watch” of the county Department of Social Services are planning to stage a “silent protest” Wednesday afternoon.
It will take place at 2 p.m. in the parking lot of the agency’s office in Carriage Oaks in Carthage, an hour before the monthly meeting of the board of Social Services.
“We are doing this to remind the DSS board that the apparent maneuvering and timeliness of their new policies will not change the fact that a child died on their watch,” said Pamela Reed, a former Guardian Ad Litem volunteer previously assigned to the custody case of 23-month-old Rylan Ott. “They can try to restrict productive dialogue, but at the end of the day, the truth is still the truth. Rylan Ott’s life ended because of their focus on resources instead of his welfare.
“We are calling it a ‘silent protest’ because there will be no chanting or shouting or jeering, just holding up of signs remembering Rylan, while protesting DSS’ new policies allowing them to deny citizen access to the agenda.”
Reed was referring to a policy the board adopted at its July 20 meeting on how to handle requests from the public to be on the agenda of a board meeting. That new policy says a speaker’s request should first be directed to staff for resolution. If the issue cannot be resolved at the staff level, the department director, John Benton, would then take a request to the board chairman to decide whether to bring it before the full board.
Anyone can speak during a newly created public comment period the beginning of each meeting. But the person is limited to three minutes, and board members cannot respond. Someone who is permitted to be on the agenda would have 10 minutes — which could be extended — and board members are allowed to comment.
After previously being told she could address the Social Services board a second time in July, Reed was later informed that, because of the new board policy governing speakers, her request to appear on the Aug. 17 agenda had been denied.
Board Chairwoman Katie Dunlap said in a July 28 letter to Reed that what she wanted to talk about amounted to a “personnel issue,” which board members are prohibited from discussing in public.
Reed was granted an appearance before the DSS board on June 22. At that meeting, she criticized the Department of Social Services about how it handled Rylan’s case.
Reed had been assigned to the case until December, when a judge returned the tot and an older sister to their mother, Samantha Nacole Bryant, 30, against the recommendation of a social worker. Reed said the social worker was overruled by a supervisor because of concerns about the time and cost involved in transporting the children back and forth from their kinship foster home at Fort Bragg and the department’s offices in Carthage for visits with their mother.
Rylan died four months later when, unsupervised, he wandered away from home and drowned in a pond near his Vass home. Bryant was indicted on charges of involuntary manslaughter and felony child abuse severe bodily injury. She remains jailed under a $200,000 secured bond.
Almost immediately after Rylan’s death, Reed, a Whispering Pines resident, began speaking out critically about how DSS officials had handled the case.
After speaking to the DSS board in June, Reed asked to return for the July 20 meeting. That request was granted, but she was unable to attend because of an illness, so she asked to be on the agenda for the Aug. 17 meeting. That was when Dunlap informed her that the board in July had adopted a new policy on handling such requests, and that she would not be on the agenda.
That decision by the DSS board drew the ire of County Commissioners Chairman Nick Picerno, who said at the Aug. 2 meeting that he has a problem “when people change the rules in the middle of the game.” He said “something stinks or it appears to stink,” and asked that Dunlap provide an explanation of its decision to the commissioners.
Dunlap was not at the commissioners’ meeting at which Picerno voiced his concern. Reached at home the next morning, she said she explained her decision in her letter to Reed. She said she offered Reed the opportunity to meet with her, Commissioner Catherine Graham, Social Services Director John Benton and the board’s attorney, Ward Medlin, to discuss the issues privately. Graham is a county appointee to the Social Services board.
In addition, Dunlap said, it’s not as if Reed can’t speak at all during the DSS board meeting: “She has the opportunity to speak during the public comment period without talking about specific personnel.”
As for the commissioners’ request for an explanation in denying Reed’s request, Dunlap said she would have to consult with Benton and Medlin before deciding how to respond.
Reed wrote in her letter to Dunlap asking to be placed on the agenda for the Aug. 17 meeting that she “collected signed, notarized statements from several former Moore County DSS caseworkers, to present to the board.” She said that was in response to comments Graham made at the June 22 board meeting that it “would be helpful to hear from former Moore County caseworkers.”
Reed said she still plans to attend the meeting, which starts at 3 p.m., and turn over information she has compiled during the public comment period.
In addition to the public scrutiny, an investigation was conducted by the Durham County Department of Social Services at the request of Moore County. Benton told the board at its July meeting that the report was received July 18. He told the board that a previously scheduled review of the Child Welfare division by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services was completed July 14, but it will take 30 to 45 days for the report to be completed and sent to the county agency.
He recommended that the board review both of those reports before making a response.