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Wednesday, 30 March 2011 19:16

New board and new director take reins at Swain DSS amidst SBI probe

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The director of Swain County Department of Social Services has been put on leave with pay following a nearly clean sweep of the DSS board.

A newly constituted DSS board placed Director Tammy Cagle on “nondisciplinary investigative status to investigate allegations of performance or conduct deficiencies” following a unanimous vote of the DSS board Monday (March 28).

DSS plans to hire an interim director by the week’s end, according to Robert White, a Swain County commissioner and new member of the DSS board. The DSS board will meet Wednesday to consider a person for the post.

White, a former school superintendent, said the entire situation has been very difficult, in fact the most difficult he has ever faced. White said he hopes it can be resolved sooner rather than later.

Swain DSS is under investigation for an alleged cover-up following the death of a Cherokee baby, Aubrey Kina-Marie Littlejohn. Relatives had repeatedly warned DSS of suspected abuse and neglect by the baby’s caretaker, but DSS failed to take action and later doctored records to hide any negligence on their part, according to the law enforcement investigation.

So far, no charges have been filed against Aubrey’s caregiver in connection with her death, nor have charges been filed in the obstruction of justice investigation into DSS.

Despite public demands that those employees named in the investigation — including the director — be put on leave with pay pending the outcome, the former DSS board reached an impasse on whether to do so.

Swain County commissioners condemned the former board for failing to take action and called for them to resign.

Four of the five DSS board members are now brand-new through a combination of local and state appointments: Georgeanna Carson, Tom Decker, Sarah Wachacha and White. Only Frela Beck remains from the previous board.

The DSS board only has hiring and firing authority over the director. However, an interim director once appointed could put the remaining employees named in the investigation on leave.

Family members of Aubrey thanked the new DSS board for taking the allegations seriously.

“I know it is just the first step to getting where we need to be, but it takes a lot off our shoulders to know somebody is taking this seriously,” said Leighann McCoy, one of Aubrey’s family members who attended the meeting of the new DSS board this week.

Ruth McCoy, Aubrey’s great-aunt, feared the SBI probe would be hampered if those in positions of authority named in investigation remained in their job.

“Now maybe people will step forward and start speaking,” McCoy said.

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