By Andy Metzger
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
BOSTON -- Twenty-four House lawmakers , including Billerica Rep. Marc Lombardo and Rep. James Lyons, who represents a part of Tewkbury, have asked Gov. Deval Patrick to seek the resignation of Department of Children and Families Commissioner Olga Roche, prompting a sharp rebuttal from the state's CEO, who is standing by his DCF chief.
In a letter dated Thursday, the lawmakers cited the disappearance of 5-year-old Jeremiah Oliver, as well as subsequent revelations such as the department's failure to conduct monthly home visits roughly 20 percent of the time.
"With recent media reports, and the failure to protect Jeremiah Oliver who has been missing since September, the Department has clearly not worked to correct issues internally and protect those most vulnerable under State custody. This is utterly unacceptable," lawmakers wrote in a letter signed by Republicans and Democrats. "Again we ask that you urge the resignation of Commissioner Roche immediately."
On Friday on his way into a taped appearance on WCVB's On The Record, Gov. Deval Patrick said he thinks it is not the right time to change leadership at the department responsible for protecting and watching over children living in danger.
"Well I hear it and I understand it, it's kind of a customary thing in politics that when someone or something goes wrong people call for someone's head on a platter. I mean this is somebody who has 20 or 30 years of experience in child welfare, her experience and understanding and preparation is quite a bit deeper than the folks who have written me saying that she should step down," Patrick said, according to a transcript provided by the governor's office. "And given that the agency is destabilized in many respects because of so much incoming bad publicity, I think it's a terrible time to change up the leadership."
Signers of the letter included Minority Leader Brad Jones and three Democrats with committee chairmanships - Reps. Harold Naughton, chair of Public Safety and Homeland Security; Anne Gobi, chair of Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture; and James O'Day, chair of Elder Affairs.
"It's a cumulative effect of so many events of the last few weeks," Naughton told the News Service, relating the situation to the Department of Transitional Assistance where Daniel Hurley resigned about a year ago and Stacey Monahan took over, putting a turnaround plan in place.
Naughton said, "I respect the administration and I know she's tried hard, but sometimes it gets to a point where the confidence level drops."
Naughton said his mind was made when he learned earlier this week about what he said was a lack of standards for someone to be a foster parent, and the large number of foster parents who have criminal convictions. He also disputed that instability is a reason to keep the current leadership.
"When it hits that level of instability, isn't it time to bring someone else in to try to fix it," said Naughton, whose district is near Fitchburg, where Oliver went missing.
Patrick this week defended Roche and said she had his full faith to continue in her job, while other Democratic leaders like Attorney General Martha Coakley said any decision on Roche's future should wait until after the completion of an investigation by the Child Welfare League of America. House Post Audit Committee Chairman Rep. David Linsky (D-Natick) declined to say in a radio interview whether Roche should resign, saying the agency needs to do better and that he was focused on his investigation.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Charlie Baker has also called for her resignation.
Rep. Leah Cole, a Peabody Republican, said some members have been seeking Roche's resignation since last week and earlier. Cole and others passed around the letter during a House formal session Wednesday.
"It was mostly positive," Cole said, describing the response from Democrats. "I think people understand that when a department is not working right it starts from the top. I really hope that Governor Patrick does the right thing here."
Besides Lyons and Lombardo, the signatures, in order listed on the letter, were: Reps. Ryan Fattman (R-Webster), Leah Cole (R-Peabody), Harold Naughton (D-Clinton), Jonathan Zlotnik (D-Gardner), Stephen DiNatale (D-Fitchburg), Matthew Beaton (R-Shrewsbury), Peter Durant (R-Charlton), Kimberly Ferguson (R-Holden), Paul Frost (R-Auburn), Kevin Kuros (R-Uxbridge), George Peterson (R-Grafton), Todd Smola (R-Palmer), James O'Day (D-West Boylston), Anne Gobi (D-Spencer), John Mahoney (D-Worcester), Daniel Donahue (D-Worcester), Dennis Rosa (D-Leominster), Shawn Dooley (R-Norfolk), Shaunna O'Connell (R-Taunton), Geoff Diehl (R-Whitman), Nick Boldyga (R-Southwick), Minority Leader Bradley Jones, Jr., (R-North Reading).