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Recent editorials published in Indiana newspapers

July 19, 2019

The (Fort Wayne) Journal Gazette. July 14, 2019

Suit highlights ongoing issues in child welfare

Just when things seemed to be looking up at Indiana’s Department of Child Services, along came a lawsuit claiming the agency is failing to protect the thousands of children in its care.

Core problems at the state’s child-welfare agency have not been solved, according to the suit filed by two advocacy groups and an international law firm on behalf of several foster children, including two brothers in Allen County. Among its allegations: The agency removes too many children from their homes, often places them in inappropriate settings and allows them to “unnecessarily languish in foster care.”

Most of the problems alleged in the suit are similar to those detailed in years of official studies and impassioned legislative debates. The latest chapter began in late 2017, when Director Mary Beth Bonaventura resigned and a six-month investigation confirmed the agency had to make fundamental changes.

By many accounts, the new director, Terry Stigdon, has made a good start. “They are doing a total institutional change from top to bottom,” Indiana Rep. Wendy McNamara reported to the Indiana Commission on Improving the Status of Children in Indiana last week.

McNamara, who chairs a commission oversight committee, noted the department has already reduced the workloads of its lawyers and case managers, empowered decision-making at the local level and improved what last year’s report called a workplace “culture of fear.”

That progress, and the fact that the number of cases the department is handling has dropped dramatically, had led the legislature to reduce the governor’s request for DCS funding by $80 million over the current biennium. Indiana House Minority Leader Phil GiaQuinta said last week the problems alleged in the suit suggest that may have been premature. “They claim that things are going so much better,” GiaQuinta said. “Maybe they should have kept those dollars in there.”

Despite that cut, the Family and Children’s services fund will total more than $1 billion over the next two years. Chris Daley, executive director of the Indiana Association of Resources and Child Advocacy, says more of that money should go to the non-governmental organizations his association comprises.

Daley said last week his impression is Stigdon’s department is making progress on pay and other issues. “Lawsuits are always backwards-looking,” Daley said. “I would not necessarily say this lawsuit reflects what’s been happening (recently).” But reimbursement rates for private providers, which are also determined by the Department of Child Services, are still lagging, Daley said.

Though departmental case managers are always involved at some level, private providers supply home-based services to most DCS families, manage about half the state’s foster-family placements, and often have the best opportunity to head off problems like the lawsuit describes. “When we talk about the child welfare community,” Daley said, private service providers “are the folks who work day to day with families.”

Sharon Pierce, executive director of The Villages of Indiana, which serves northeast Indiana and other areas, says organizations such as hers try to match appropriate foster families and kids. That approach ensures “the trauma of a kid’s experience when they’re removed from a family isn’t exacerbated by multiple foster placements,” Pierce said.

The lawsuit may point the state to other necessary changes. But the challenge of channeling more resources toward the private providers allied with her agency is one that Stigdon, with two years of overall funding in place, could address now.

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South Bend Tribune. July 14, 2019

Is Indiana’s attorney general doing public work through private emails?

Longtime readers of The Tribune know there are certain issues we regularly and consistently support.

Transparency in government is one of those.

There are many times government does right by the people it represents. But there are others when elected officials fall short of honestly communicating with the public. When that happens, it is our duty to call them out.

That’s one of the basic tenets of journalism and we support other news organizations and journalists in their efforts to get to the truth.

So we support our colleagues at the Indianapolis Star and reporter Ryan Martin in their lawsuit to obtain the personal email of Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill and his chief deputy, Aaron Negangard, over allegations they are conducting government business through those private accounts.

The complaint states that because Hill and Negangard conduct government affairs through their personal email accounts, the email must be released under the state’s Access to Public Records Act.

The attorney general’s office has so far refused to reveal the officials’ email addresses.

There’s nothing wrong with having a personal email account as an elected official. There’s plenty wrong with having a personal email account and conducting government business through it to escape public notice.

The lawsuit came about after Martin requested information about employee turnover in the attorney general’s office. According to a story in The Star, the office provided 19 email records and denied 44 others. Several of the 19 had redactions that included Hill’s and Negangard’s personal email addresses, indicating they were using personal accounts for government business.

Indiana Public Access Counselor Luke Britt issued an advisory opinion that said privacy is forfeited when government affairs are conducted on personal accounts.

Remember when former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Indiana Gov. Mike Pence were criticized for their use of private email accounts?

“Private email accounts are not as secure,” IndyStar News and Investigations Director Alvie Lindsay said. “Pence’s personal AOL account, for example, was hacked while he was governor. And it gives the impression that the public official is trying to hide something.”

We applaud The Star for trying to hold government officials accountable for their actions. That is exactly the role of journalists in a free and open society — a bedrock foundation of our representative government. And their lawsuit sends an important message about keeping government business in the open, in full view of the public.

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The (Northwest Indiana) Times. July 11, 2019

Hammond creates model for quelling homicides, other violent crime

Sustained success or improvement almost always results from deliberate action, strategic planning and dogged execution.

Such is the case with the city of Hammond’s almost nonexistent volume of homicides and decreasing numbers of most other categories of violent crime within recent years.

It all comes as a result of a city administration determined to use cutting edge technology and old-fashioned police work to keep a problem that plagues much of Northwest Indiana’s urban core at bay in Lake County’s largest city.

Other Region municipalities grappling with high numbers and rates of slayings — particularly Gary — should be taking note and learning from Hammond’s success.

As of July 4, Hammond had been homicide free since the beginning of the calendar year.

On Independence Day, that streak ended, but not before the city shattered the homicide-free record streak set 38 years ago when the city had no homicides between Jan. 1 and June 8 of 1981.

The recent record streak came to an end with the alleged road-rage shooting death of 18-year-old Jorge Roman, a young father from East Chicago.

While no amount of homicides is acceptable, Hammond has accomplished something noteworthy.

Nearby Gary, which is slightly smaller in population, has seen 28 homicides so far this year, up from 25 at the same time last year. Gary recorded 40 homicides for all of 2018.

And Hammond is bordered to the north by the South Side of Chicago, another magnet for crime.

Meanwhile, Hammond has seen one homicide in 2019. It experienced five homicides in all of 2018, which represented a 61.5% drop over 10 years.

How is Hammond, a larger urban core city, doing it?

Police Chief John Doughty told us Tuesday of several measures the city has taken in recent years to produce a safer community.

In 2016, Hammond began using a system called Blue Net — a series of cameras throughout the city that read license plates of passing cars and help nab or deter criminals, sometimes before the crimes occur.

The program has since grown to more than 60 license-plate-reading cameras throughout the city. Those cameras have been credited with helping lead to arrests in a number of high-profile crimes, including the most recent homicide case.

Hammond has made no secret the cameras are there, although would-be crooks don’t know where they’re located.

The program and its successes have been well publicized, no doubt creating a deterrence to crime.

Technology seems to be playing an important role.

But old-fashioned police work and community outreach can’t be overlooked either.

The city’s Academy Bound program, patterned after Hammond’s residential College Bound tuition program, seeks out a diverse mix of city residents, who are 21 years of age or older.

Funded through municipal gaming dollars, it pays for parties interested in a law enforcement career to attend the state police academy. It also pays for uniforms and entry-level equipment for the city police officers-in-training.

In exchange, the academy attendees agree to stay and work in Hammond for three years after graduating.

If they fail to pass the academy, participants must reimburse expenses to the city, protecting Hammond’s investment.

City officials note the end result is a police force built with cops who already live in and know the city.

Increased police presence in the neighborhoods, sometimes even knocking on doors or approaching people for conversations on the street, also is having an impact, Doughty said.

Not all Region police departments are getting it right. Hammond is finding success in key areas.

It’s time for other communities to learn from the example.

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