The Swain County Department of Social Services board met for three hours Tuesday night (March 8) to discuss whether employees named in an investigation should be suspended with pay pending the outcome. The board failed to come to a consensus. A vote was not held, so it is not known which board members are on which side.
Only four of the five DSS board members were at the meeting.
The fifth, Robert White, was out of town on county business that could not be rescheduled. White is also a county commissioner.
Had White been there, it seems he would have been the tie breaker — and that the scales would be tipped in favor of suspending the employees. White has already publicly weighed in on the issue at a county commissioner meeting last week, where county commissioners formally called on the DSS board to take action. White seconded the motion and voted in favor of sending a letter to the DSS board recommending the employees be put on leave with pay.
The DSS board has not announced whether they will hold another meeting to settle the issue when White gets back in town. Their next regularly scheduled meeting is not until Monday, March 28, at 5:30 p.m.
The DSS board met Tuesday night behind closed doors since the conversation centered on personnel, which is exempt from open meeting requirements.
Family members of Aubrey Kina-Marie Littlejohn, a 15-month-old who died in January, waited for three hours to hear the board’s decision. Family had repeatedly asked DSS to take the baby away from a great-aunt who was caring for her. DSS is being investigated by the State Bureau of Investigation for a subsequent cover-up including falsification of records, according to law enforcement documents.
Also waiting outside the meeting were family members of Craig Smith, a social worker directly involved in falsifying DSS records in an apparent cover-up. Smith is the only employee who has so far been suspended. However, in his testimony to investigators he said orders to fabricate records came from higher up.