Thursday, June 19, 2008

Don Jordan tries to un-ring the bell

Say this for the Secretary of the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services, Don Jordan: He does know how to pander.

First he was caught on tape saying that assistant district attorneys in the state's largest county, Sedgwick, have been bullying his caseworkers into including things in sworn affidavits that the workers don't actually believe. Actually he didn't stop at bullying. Jordan also accused the ADAs of cussing at, screaming at, yelling at and threatening the caseworkers.

When he found out his comments would become public, he called Ron Paschal the deputy district attorney in charge of the child abuse unit to apologize. According to Paschal, Jordan explained he was merely "pandering" to the family advocacy group to which he made the remarks, Citizens for Change.

Yesterday, Jordan released a statement in which he tries to reconcile these statements. Of course that's impossible. Mostly he just panders to the D.A.'s office – and in the process only digs himself in deeper.

The statement tries to treat the original comments as one little slip-of-the-tongue; a bit of infelicitous phrasing. He says he was merely trying to suggest that the stress of dealing with child abuse cases "can lead to a lack of civility." The record shows otherwise. As The Wichita Eagle reported last week, and again today Jordan's original comment went on at some length and, as noted above, used not only the term bullied but all those other choice words as well.

Of course, we don't know what assistant district attorneys say to caseworkers in private. But we do know that the District Attorney's office publicly has sought to bully SRS as a whole into taking away more children, exploiting a high-profile tragedy in 2006 to claim the agency was doing too much to keep families together. Indeed, deputy district attorney Ron Paschal even speculated that a change in state regulations had led to fewer children being taken from their parents. In fact, removals went up. So it's important that even if Jordan loses his job over this, as he should, that doesn't then let the D.A.'s office off the hook for its overall take-the-child-and-run approach to child welfare, which has traumatized hundreds of children needlessly while doing nothing to make children safer.

Jordan goes on to say that "the disputes I was referring to in my comments and for which I was not clear, have nothing to do with the veracity of the information provided in legal documents." But on the tape, Jordan is heard not once, but twice saying specifically that the affidavits contain information the workers themselves don't believe. He said there are times when workers "have no belief in what it says." And then later he comes back to that same point: "I am working on our staff that we do our assessments properly and we not get bullied into writing things we don't believe."

Jordan also claims now that a practice he once said was enough of a problem to require "working on our staff" now was merely what he'd heard in "anecdotal accounts provided to me over the years by line social workers and their managers." But if he's been hearing this for years, why hasn't he looked into it? Why hasn't he done anything about it? Jordan's statement also reveals something else: The problem is not confined to Sedgwick County.

One other item was notable in the statement. Up to now, we've had only Paschal's word for it that Jordan told him he was merely "pandering" to Citizens for Change. In his statement, as published in The Eagle today, he confirms it.

The Sedgwick County District Attorney actually said it best in her response to Jordan's comments when the story first broke: "You can't un-ring the bell."

I'm on my way to Wichita today. I'll be speaking at a Citizens for Change news conference tomorrow and a public forum on Saturday. I expect to have more on this on the Blog tomorrow morning.