DSS director

Published 11:09 am Friday, November 21, 2008

By Staff
is dismissed
Commissioners, Harriett clashed on some matters
Contributing Editor
James P. Harriett was dismissed Thursday from his position as director of the Beaufort County Department of Social Services.
The dismissal came during the board’s meeting, which began at noon.
Simpson referred questions about Harriett’s dismissal to County Manager Paul Spruill.
Spruill declined to comment further.
Deatherage said working in a highly visible position such as DSS director can be difficult at times.
Harriett began working at the department on Feb. 10, 1994. When dismissed, he was being paid $67,264 a year, according to Jim Chrisman, assistant county manager and finance officer.
Attempts to reach Harriett for comment were unsuccessful. Telephone calls made to the department in an attempt to speak to Harriett were forwarded to the phone-message system for Barbara Jones, the department’s assistant director.
Harriett and Beaufort County commissioners had their differences over various issues at times.
A 2006 search for answers to a confidential adoption case broadened to scrutiny of the Beaufort County Department of Social Services’ operations. Clients of programs offered by DSS had appealed to elected officials with complaints of inefficiency and poor customer service. Some county commissioners had butted heads with DSS staff and board members regarding matters that are confidential.
The matter put at odds commissioners, members of an elected body, and the DSS board, an appointed body.
In 2006, Commissioner Hood Richardson, one among three outspoken commissioners who were leading the charge to “get to the bottom of this issue,” said Harriett was using confidentiality as a cloak of secrecy to block public officials from fielding area residents’ complaints.
In late 2005 and in 2006, some commissioners had concerns with how DSS responded to inquiries concerning fraud investigations.
In June 2006, commissioners approved a spending plan in June for the 2006-2007 fiscal year that earmarked $40,000 for a fraud investigator at DSS. Created with the directive that the new employee would report to the county manager, not Harriett, the position had been a quagmire for county officials and the DSS board.
Officials with DSS said such a position would breach confidentiality laws and a client’s right to privacy.
During a 2006 meeting about the matter, Spruill asked the question of where the line is drawn regarding privacy laws.
He said many complaints commissioners and his staff had fielded are centered on the inability of DSS personnel to communicate with the public on the outcome of fraud investigations.
Earlier this year, the county commissioners authorized a comprehensive audit of the department, focusing on four departments. Those departments are the ones that determine the eligibility of clients for family and children’s Medicaid, adult Medicaid, food stamps and Work First.
The findings of that audit have not yet been presented to the county, said Chrisman on Thursday.