Philly Blunt

Freelance writer. Editor and web-video producer. Former Atlantic City Press and Philadelphia Weekly staff writer, City Paper managing editor/columnist and Dougherty for Senate campaign manager. Comments welcome here or emailed to brianhickey9 [at] hotmail. Now on: Facebook (Brian Hickey, in Philly) Twitter at Flickr at Be sure to check out Hickey on Divorce Court:

05 August 2008

A modest proposal

So, the City's Department of Human Services, an agency that faces innumerable challenges in its mission to protect Philly's kids and families, is under some well-deserved fire for enabling the horrificly depraved death of Danieal Kelly, a 14-year-old with cerebral palsy. As the Inquirer put it, this is a story rife with "allegations of villany."

(Danieal is center, back row; photo from Sunday Inquirer)

And yesterday, Mayor Nutter hopped into the fray, hammering those who let this poor child die and vowing change.
Just like officials have been vowing change for years.

"If you are not prepared to take the action that needs to be taken, if you cannot keep up and stay on top of things, then you should leave this city government right now," Nutter said, addressing himself to DHS employees. "We don't need you, and we don't want you."
Nutter's comments were easily his harshest critique yet of a city department and its employees. Although he campaigned as a candidate who would throw the bums out of City Hall, as mayor he has frequently gone out of his way to praise municipal workers. The vast majority, he often says, are diligent and dedicated people who get too little respect.
Nutter took care to repeat those sentiments yesterday, even personally thanking by phone four DHS employees who had tried to blow the whistle on the Kelly case. But his appreciation for good work was, for once, dwarfed by his prodigious anger at those who had so badly failed the 14-year-old girl.
"The behavior exhibited by public employees is unacceptable. I am furious at their actions," Nutter said at the news conference.

Let's be honest: Cases like this are going to keep happening until there's widespread, systemic change within the department. I don't purport to be an expert on this -- though I did edit Doron Taussig's fine piece about DHS a few years back -- but something's been swirling around my mind since the latest "deluge" of coverage:

Fine, so DHS is probably yet-another bastion of patronage, right? Well, why don't investigators look into how every last person involved in this case -- hell, why not department wide? -- actually got their job. Trace it all the way back to whomever initialed the top of their application for fast-tracking purposes.
Unqualified? Bring the weight of the system down on higher-ups who slid them into the jobs. DHS is not the place to put anybody but a trained, compassionate professional who will treat the position as a calling, not a nine-to-five job. And its high time the people of Philadelphia know who these people are, and how they got there.


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