The Department of Children’s Services said this week that it will charge an estimated $34,952 to produce public records of children who died or nearly died during the past 11 months after having some contact with the child welfare agency, reports The Tennessean. It is the latest five-figure price tag DCS has attached to releasing records and comes as part of an ongoing legal battle between the agency and a coalition of the state’s news organizations. Led by The Tennessean, the coalition filed suit against DCS in December. The newspaper and DCS return to court today.
The new charges emerged Wednesday after the newspaper requested that DCS produce more recent files. The Tennessean requested DCS provide records for children who died or nearly died between July 2012 and May 2013.
Calling it a new request “not subject to the Court’s order,” DCS chief attorney Doug Dimond noted in a letter that it would turn over those records only after The Tennessean agreed to pay the nearly $34,952 estimate for records of child deaths and near deaths in an 11-month span — an estimate similar an earlier DCS effort to charge $32,225 for records that covered a much larger, 3½-year time period.
In April, Chancery Court Judge Carol McCoy ordered DCS to produce records at a cost of no more than 50 cents per copy, setting aside DCS’ efforts to charge $32,225 for records.
Previously DCS had set the price tag at $55,584 for the same records.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The state Department of Children’s Services will appeal a Nashville judge’s ruling ordering the agency to release records at 50-cents per page.
A group of media organizations including The Tennessean and The Associated Press is suing the agency for the records of children DCS was supposed to be helping who later died or nearly died.
DCS originally said it would cost the media more than $55,000 for about 200 records.
Last month, Chancellor Carol McCoy ordered the expedited release of 50 records. She said the agency cannot charge for redacting personal information from the records.
The Tennessean reports (http://tnne.ws/11POgPw) DCS on Friday said it will appeal. The agency wants to charge almost $9,000 for 42 records. DCS says it is unable to provide records for the other eight children.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services has disciplined three high-ranking employees over child death record-keeping.
The Tennessean (http://tnne.ws/10Ucayd ) cited internal memos in reporting the demotion of team coordinator Lisa Lund, who appealed the penalty and was reinstated with a two-day unpaid suspension. The documents also noted the two-day suspension of Director of Child Safety Marjahna Hart, who is Lund’s supervisor. Also disciplined was Carla Aaron the executive director of child safety, who oversees both Hart and Lund. Aaron received a written warning.
The Tennessean and other news organizations, including The Associated Press, sued the department to obtain records of children who died after agency contact with them.
The three employees are on the Child Fatality Review Team, which fell behind and failed to follow department policies, leading to court-ordered reforms.
Disciplinary records cited by The Tennessean show Lund was responsible for the fatality’s team’s meeting minutes, but some had errors or were incomplete and not fully reflective of the team’s discussions. Lund tried to bring the records up to date months after media and the children’s advocacy group Children’s Rights requested them.
Aaron later found Lund left out “significant portions” of the team’s minutes before they were made public. Passages left out of the first batch of documents contain key details about how DCS caseworkers made decisions about child abuse investigations.
Lund was collecting child fatality information, putting details into a digital spreadsheet as early as January 2011. However, a timeline written by Aaron shows the accuracy of the document was questioned as early as May 2012.
A memo from Department of Children’s Services Interim Commissioner Jim Henry to Lund noted the early miscounts led to “significant negative publicity in statewide media outlets (print, television and radio), as well as additional scrutiny by . the federal court.”
In arguing her appeal, Lund wrote to Henry that the department’s reliance on a spreadsheet was “flawed.”
“The spreadsheet has not been an accurate and effective means for capturing data,” she wrote.
Henry rescinded Lund’s demotion.
Lund and Aaron declined comment for the newspaper’s report.
DSC has created a new process for tracking child fatalities, to be in place by August. It requires the department to keep thorough meeting minutes and publish an annual report of fatality review findings.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The state Department of Children’s Services was ordered Wednesday to give the media records from the case files of 50 children who died or nearly died after the agency became involved with them.
Davidson County Chancellor Carol McCoy also ordered the state to bear the cost of redacting identifying information from the records. The media organizations will pay the cost of making copies.
In September, The Tennessean requested the records of all the children involved with DCS who had died or nearly died between 2009 and mid-2012. The state produced only bare-bones summaries and later acknowledged it did not know how many children had died during that period.
In December a group of media organizations, led by The Tennessean and including The Associated Press, sued for access to the records. McCoy in January ordered the state to redact and turn over records from four cases and to produce an estimate of the cost to redact records in the remaining 200-or-so cases.
The state first said it would cost more than $55,000 to produce the remaining records, but later reduced that to a little over $34,000.
At the Wednesday hearing, the media groups asked McCoy to expand which records the department has to turn over and to order DCS to waive the fee.
McCoy did grant a partial expansion of the records request and ordered that the media groups must pay only a 50-cent-per-page copying cost. She told DCS to produce records from the 50 most recent files for her review by May 3.
From Richard Locker:
The state Senate approved a bill Wednesday closing public and media access to Tennessee’s handgun-carry permit records in most cases, making confidential the identities of nearly 400,000 Tennesseans licensed to go armed in public.
The House approved it 84-10 last month and the Senate followed suit on a 27-2 vote. Senators added an amendment providing limited circumstances when the public may ask if a specific individual who has some brush with the law has a permit, which sends the bill back to the House for concurrence with the amendment only. Approval there is expected, possibly Thursday. It then goes to the governor, who is expected to allow it to become law.
“This is a bill that protects the handgun permit carriers. It also protects the non-handgun permit carriers,” the sponsor, Sen. Ferrell Haile, R-Gallatin, told his colleagues. “What we’re doing here is prevent the publication of carry permit holders in a news media or on the Internet where that their name and address is put on a map, and that allows those that would come in and steal guns to know where those guns are.
“Also in addition to that, those that are not permit carriers are also identified through this in that the thieves would know perhaps that home has no protection. So this is for the public welfare,” Haile said.
The Senate amendment allows access by law enforcement as needed and to child-support agencies for child-support enforcement.
It allows “any person or entity” to ask the state Department of Safety to search the permit database to determine if a specific named person has a permit, but only if the requester presents a court judgment of a conviction, a criminal history report, order of protection or other official government document or record that indicates the named person is not eligible to possess a gun-carry permit.
In earlier committee discussions of the bill, legislative lawyers said that could include an arrest warrant charging a person with a felony but a misdemeanor.
The Commercial Appeal maintains on its website a searchable database of names and hometowns of Tennesseeans holding handgun-carry permits, but not street addresses. No Tennessee media outlet has published or posted maps displaying addresses of permit holders.
And referencing Haile’s argument that the bill protects identification of people without carry permits, no permit is required in Tennessee to keep guns at home.
— Note: This updates and replaces earlier post, part of the CA’s ‘State Capitol Wednesday’ HERE.
News release from Secretary of State’s Office:
Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett’s office has received inquiries about an official-looking notice from Corporate Records Service. It appears that these notices began arriving in mailboxes around January 22, 2013 and Tennesseans are continuing to receive them. Corporate Records Service is not registered, affiliated, or associated with the Tennessee Secretary of State.
The mailer is causing confusion for Tennessee corporations due to its appearance as an official document. Tennessee corporations are required to file annual reports with the Tennessee Secretary of State. Most corporations have also recently received annual report notices from the Secretary of State.
Corporate Records Services is requesting a $125 fee. The standard fee to file a corporation annual report in Tennessee is only $20.
“We can confirm that Corporate Records Service is not a business entity on file with our office,” Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett said. “I strongly advise corporations to exercise caution before providing their private and confidential information or credit card information to this or any company that is representing itself in this manner.”
By Travis Loller, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — At its most basic level, the job of child welfare agencies is to keep children alive. Recently, the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services has had trouble keeping track of how many children died in its custody.
The disarray in the department’s records revealed in two court proceedings has child advocates wondering whether the agency’s clerical and administrative troubles could be putting children in jeopardy.
“The big picture here is that the state has to have a way to accurately track all child deaths and DCS needs a process for investigating all child deaths thoroughly. We learned recently that they don’t have either,” said Ira Lustbader, associate director of the advocacy group Children’s Rights, which works with independent monitors to keep track of how well DCS cares for foster children.
Tennessee taxpayers know next to nothing about what DCS does. Officials have for years refused to comment about how they handle cases of abuse or neglect, claiming confidentiality even after children died. What little is known has come from heavily redacted files that news organizations, including The Associated Press, have obtained under public records requests and by court order. Those requests have centered on getting information about 200 DCS investigations of abuse and neglect reports of children who later died or were seriously injured between 2009 and last year.
Gov. Bill Haslam is defending the $55,884 bill to media for copies of records from the Department of Children’s Services, reports Chas Sisk. (Haslam said he) was not aware of the tab for records, which was tallied after a judge ruled that the records had to be made public, until it was printed in the newspaper.
But Haslam said the sum was not meant to discourage news organizations from obtaining the records. He said line items — such as $500 for whiteout, nearly 1,800 labor hours to review the records and more than 14,000 miles to transport records around the state — did not seem extraordinary given that the records are scattered in various DCS offices.
“I’ll be glad to pay the $500 if Gannett is struggling,” Haslam quipped, referring to the parent company of The Tennessean, which led the public records lawsuit.
“We did what the judge asked us to do. The judge said tell them what it would cost. We did exactly what the judge said.”
Meanwhile, Jack McElroy gives some perspective on the bill. Among the expenses is the cost of hand-delivering each file from local offices to regional offices then to state headquarters at the rate of $0.47 per mile, so the files can be copied in Nashville. The original files then will be hand-delivered back to the offices where they originated. The total mileage is estimated at 7,102 miles, and, of course, employees will have to accompany the files earning $16.39 an hour on those long drives.
In Nashville, the relevant portions of the files will be extracted and photocopied, then those portions will be redacted using white-out tape. which “unfortunately, can be easily removed,” so the files will have to be copied again. The redaction will take 600 rolls of white-out tape, by the way, at the cost of $0.86/roll.
In all, the state estimates it will take 1,798.5 hours of state labor to provide the public with copies of the 200 summary files, about nine hours per file. The total “good faith” estimate of the cost to the media of the project is $55,884.55.
I guess if more children die, the cost will go up.
By Travis Lollar, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Tennessee Department of Children’s Services must provide to the public records of children who died or nearly died after the agency investigated reports they had been abused or neglected, a Nashville judge ruled Wednesday.
Chancellor Carol McCoy gave the department 10 days to redact confidential information from documents that serve as summaries for four specific cases. The records then must be turned over to 12 news media organizations that sued under Tennessee’s public records law. The media coalition was led by The Tennessean and included The Associated Press.
In ordering the disclosure of the redacted files, McCoy said she had to weigh competing priorities of protecting the privacy of abused children versus holding the state accountable when a child dies.
McCoy determined that a child’s right to privacy is diminished after the child dies and the more important concern becomes what the state did or did not do to try to prevent the death. Attorneys for the state had argued that DCS — which initially revealed only one line of information on the cases of 151 children who died and 55 who suffered near fatal injuries since 2009 — was prohibited by state law from releasing its records.
McCoy found that while the law does protect the privacy of children and families involved with DCS, the agency’s records relating to deaths and near fatalities are subject to the public records law.
News release from secretary of state’s office:
Tennesseans who want to get a glimpse at the foundations of our state’s political and social history can do so with the help of a new resource from the Tennessee State Library and Archives. The Early Tennessee Legislative Records database is now online, providing an index to records from as early as 1793 through the 1840s. These papers chronicle the most important events in Tennessee history of that era, including the formation of county and boundary lines, the mustering troops for war and amendments to the state constitution.
Researchers of the Early Tennessee Legislative Records can see, for example, how the first legislative attempt to ban slavery in Tennessee was drafted and failed in 1819. Many of the documents indexed in the collection have not been seen since the original clerks folded them away at the end of the legislative sessions. Included in the records are acts, original bills, failed bills, resolutions, amendments, messages, petitions from citizens, and tally sheets showing how members voted on the issues.
During this period, the legislature dealt with matters now considered quite personal. Divorce petitions, disputes over land boundaries and requests to recognize illegitimate children all appear in the early legislative records. Genealogists and historians can learn a great deal about early Tennesseans and their lives from these files.
“This is an exciting addition to TSLA online collections, because the Early Tennessee Legislative Records are such a rich source of information about the beginning of our state,” Secretary of State Tre Hargett said. “In addition to these records beginning with our state’s infancy, when Tennessee was merely the ‘Territory South of the River Ohio,’ TSLA also houses all the subsequent records up through the most recent General Assembly. The Legislative Records are a veritable gold mine for historians and average citizens alike.”
While the majority of the records indexed date from before 1830, newer records will be added on an ongoing basis. This is a collection that is constantly growing. The Early Tennessee Legislative Records index can be found online at phttp://tennsos.org/TSLA/rg60/