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Three More Top People Out at State DES Without Explanation

Michael Trailor, the former Arizona Department of Economic Security director. He resigned in September of this year, followed by three more leadership removals on Tuesday.EXPAND
Michael Trailor, the former Arizona Department of Economic Security director. He resigned in September of this year, followed by three more leadership removals on Tuesday.

Less than two months after former Department of Economic Security Director Michael Trailor's quiet resignation, three more members of upper-level leadership have left the state's largest agency.

The departures come a week after the department told Phoenix New Times it was actively "working to determine if appropriate hiring practices were followed" by agency leadership in response to the paper's questions about rumors of misconduct.

Cheryl Lovell, assistant director for the Division of Developmental Disabilities; Debra Wertzberger, deputy director of programs for DDD and the Division of Aging and Adult Services; and Debra Petersen, deputy director of operations, are the latest leaders to depart from DES, which employs over 7,000 people to facilitate social services for Arizona residents.

The three directors have been gone from the agency since at least November 19, according to an all-staff email sent by acting Director Cara Christ that day, which was provided to New Times.

Christ's email simply states Lovell, Wertzberger, and Petersen are "no longer with the agency."

Zane Garcia Ramadan, Virginia Roundtree, and Wes Fletcher will serve in their respective roles in the interim.

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It's been a tumultuous few months for the department. An ongoing lawsuit alleged that the agency fails to provide overtime pay to caseworkers who provide services to people with developmental disabilities. Reports circulated of overburdened workloads, management stifling salary conversations, poor retention of staff, and bed bug outbreaks in multiple DES offices.

In an email sent to New Times last week, DES didn't say why it's actively examining its hiring practices. This week, the agency refused to say whether the review is linked to the three recent departures.

"Personnel records are confidential and the Arizona Department of Economic Security cannot provide specific information about individual employees," said spokesperson Chris Minnick in his emailed response on November 12. But he added, "DES is actively reviewing the recruitment and hiring processes," to determine if the agency had followed correct hiring practices.

"During this transition period, under new leadership and with an experienced, dedicated and dynamic team, DES is working to ensure that services to the community continue without any disruption," Minnick said in his Wednesday email.

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