The Kids are Not All Right

Internal Investigation Unit Disbanded at Arizona Child Safety Department

A shake-up is underway at the newly created Arizona Department of Child Safety two weeks after a new director was appointed by Governor Doug Ducey.

The move comes as rumors fly about how and why the new director, Greg McKay, replaced Charles Flanagan, who was fired earlier this month.

On Wednesday, McKay disbanded DCS' Office of Special Investigations, which had been at least partially involved in investigating staff members at the office.

See also: -Governor Doug Ducey Fires Head of Child Safety Department

Rumor has it, says McKay, that the nine members of OSI have little intention of applying for the much-lower paying jobs of investigating child-abuse cases.

Yet McKay feels that the employees should be helping the former Child Protective Services agency perform its primary mission, as opposed to whatever they were doing before.

McKay's an 18-year veteran of the Phoenix Police Department who headed up the Office of Child Welfare Investigations after Maricopa County Bill Montgomery pushed for creation of that office with a 2012 law. He also helped make sure McKay would run it.

The OCWI was charged with working with CPS and other agencies to probe allegations of criminal abuse or neglect. McKay says when he first came to OCWI, the division was "absolutely incredible in terms of a lack of accountability and lack of transparency."

He's credited with exposing how the former CPS had been sitting on more than 6,600 un-investigated cases of child abuse and neglect -- a disaster that followed years of complaints that CPS wasn't protecting kids like it should have been. His revelation led ex-Governor Jan Brewer to dismantle CPS and form DCS as a replacement.

Charles Flanagan was put in charge of the new DCS. But he fell into disfavor with Montgomery, according to some published accounts, leading to his firing and last week's change-up.

"We don't discuss personnel decisions, but Governor Ducey chose Greg McKay as director of this vital agency because he knows he'll always put the safety of children first," says Ducey's spokesman, Daniel Scarpinato.

McKay doesn't see himself as a "whistle-blower," but he says the huge backlog of cases "was widely kept silent" by the agency, and would never have been exposed except for his complaints.

He explains that the disbanded Office of Special Investigations within the child-welfare agency was created by a 2012 law. It was supposed to investigate cases in which members of the public defrauded the state, and also provide a sort of "quality assurance" for the agency.

But "it was strictly prohibited that DCS would have a police department inside," he says. "I don't need a bunch of cops making much more money than others... investigating internal staff."

It's not like the OSI was busting employees, either, he says. He's "almost certain" the unit never arrested or criminally charged any employee.

"As far as claims that I'm the Empire striking back because they investigated me -- that's ridiculous," he says.

We ask what he means. McKay explains that Flanagan assigned the OSI to investigate McKay's division, the OCWI, for alleged misconduct.

"They still haven't explained what it was all about," he says, adding that the probe "derailed the mission" of OCWI and accused "good people" of various things.

But far from being sore, McKay indicates that he's happy with the job the OSI conducted.

"Everybody was vindicated -- they found no wrongdoing," he says. "They saved my reputation by doing a good job."

Still, the OSI unit had to go because it was wasting valuable resources at DCS, according to McKay. He points out that the agency looked into 46,000 reports of abuse or neglect last year and has 17,000 children currently under state care.

"I need all hands on deck," he insists. "Anybody who's not working to fulfill our mission" could be "reallocated."

The OSI has a chief, deputy chief, administrative assistant and sworn officers. Some of the OSI staff earn $70,000 to $90,000 a year. Meanwhile, he says, many hardworking former cops earn about $50,000 at DCS in the positions to go out to homes and physically examine evidence of potential harm done to children.

McKay believes he can save about $500,000 from the move, which would allow him to hire 25 more investigators.

That comes to only $20,000 per investigator, so he could be a bit off on those figures. In any case, it sounds like he's assuming with his savings estimate that none of the nine current OSI employees will stick around.

It also seems like some bad blood exists between Flanagan and McKay. The DCS released a November 2014 memo to New Times with McKay's recommendations for improving the DCS to Flanagan. McKay describes various processes he believes led to inaction on several cases involving children, which he goes on to describe as examples in the redacted report. Interestingly, he begins by apologizing to Flanagan "for condemning the process," saying it wasn't his intention "to undermine good faith efforts to confront a daunting task."

Flanagan was reportedly outraged by McKay's allegations.

State law still requires that DCS "establish an inspections bureau" in part to ensure DCS staff members are following policies and procedures.

McKay says non-criminal internal investigations will be handled at DCS by an "inspections bureau," but it won't be OSI. Other state entities are already set up to handle criminal allegations or complaints about alleged misuse of power by the agency, he says.

The new director maintains that oversight of the agency will be as robust as ever despite the shake-up with OSI.

"I'm believe in oversight," he says. "I'm typically the guy waving my hand."

Click here to read the November 2014 memo that McKay sent to Flanagan

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.