I retired honorably as a U.S. Marine Corps officer after 20 years of service during which I led teams and advised senior leaders as a specialist in public affairs. My career included three combat deployments, three years in Okinawa, Japan, one year with the State Department, and two years as special assistant for public communication to the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs. I wrote and taught the curriculum used to certify public affairs officers at the Defense Information School and hold a PhD in organization and management with a leadership specialization.
Presumably that background is what inspired the governor to appoint me CYFD public information officer starting Nov. 3, 2020. I knew the state ranked near the bottom in nearly every child welfare measure but also knew she campaigned on CYFD as a priority. I was eager to serve on a team with that level of support and backing for a worthy mission. My wife, fourth-grade daughter and I made the move from Washington in the midst of COVID without hesitation.
My perspective, guidance and advice were not well received by Secretary Brian Blalock.
I was fired May 6.
Accustomed to orienting quickly on complex organizations and issues, six months was more than sufficient time to observe, recognize familiar challenges, and develop proven solutions. Here are four ways CYFD could improve outcomes, increase accountability and establish the public’s trust.
First, craft a plan. An effective plan should include concrete, measurable, achievable goals and supporting objectives, clear strategies to achieve those outcomes, and methods of tracking progress and adjusting course when necessary. Several times, at least once during testimony before the Legislative Finance Committee, Blalock publicly said some version of, “If you look at CYFD’s strategic plan. …” Our legislators would do well to take him up on his implicit invitation and request to evaluate that plan. When I asked, I was given a single slide of 13 “strategic priorities” in four categories. That’s not a plan. It’s a list.
Second, publish the plan. Transparency is one of the most effective ways to improve accountability and public trust. CYFD should present its plan to the public and provide timely, accurate responses to questions about progress. The department’s most recent “Annual Report and Strategic Plan” was written at the last minute and published August 2019. A colleague described it to me as “neither a report nor a plan.” It was never referenced as a guide during staff meetings I attended.
Third, execute the plan. An effective plan serves as a road map for prioritization, decision-making and allocation of resources throughout an organization. Additionally, it ensures consistency of and alignment between the words and actions of leaders and their organizations. Blalock focuses on “quick win” opportunities rather than strategic outcomes. This creates inconsistency, which in turn hinders progress. A sound plan would help keep CYFD on track toward measurable improvement in the lives of children who experience abuse and neglect.
Fourth, report and accept responsibility for results – good or bad. CYFD’s Quarterly Outcome Measures reports aren’t published regularly, but I have read them. Many of the categories tracked don’t align with Blalock’s 13 so-called strategic priorities, and far too many are either flat or trending unfavorably.
A governor serious about improving CYFD would demand Blalock deliver these fundamental things – or find someone who can.