DCS director resigns amid allegations concerning his son's custody battle

Indianapolis

The Director of the Department of Child Services resigned, suddenly, Monday afternoon after an IndyStar investigation raised ethical questions over whether he should have stepped down, while his son fought a custody battle in court.

“We need to have an investigation. We need the governor to step in and we need Judge Payne to step aside,” said State Rep. Vanessa Summers, D-District 99.

Summers and some of her colleagues who are also members of the Democratic Party weighed in on the issue.

“It seems to be an agency in turmoil and this is too important of an agency to be in turmoil,” said State Sen. Tim Lanane, D-District 25.

Summer, Lanane and State Rep. Gail Riecken, D-District 77, held a press conference before their DCS study committee meeting, Monday afternoon. The news conference was interrupted with an announcement by someone, stating the governor had accepted Payne’s resignation.

Payne’s letter read:
“It is clear that the story of my family’s personal circumstances will continue to be public and that there is no concern by those about the impact this will have especially on my grandchildren. To disclose that information without regard to its impact on those children is tragic beyond belief. Therefore, in fairness to my family and to all my fellow co-workers at DCS, I resign effective today.

"I will not allow this personal, family tragedy to be misused to distort the positive performance of all DCS employees, which had been recognized across the nation as one of the biggest turnaround stories. I want to thank you for your commitment to children and families in our state. Your commitment has been and continues to be the reason that these positive improvements have occurred. I will forever be grateful for the opportunity to participate in these opportunities for change."

Meanwhile, Governor Mitch Daniels issued a statement, saying:

“I have accepted the resignation of Judge Jim Payne as director of the Department of Child Services. I respect his view that his family be spared further harsh criticism, and that a difficult personal dispute, not of his own making, could be misused by those with political or special interest agendas to falsely disparage the excellent work he and his DCS co-workers have done over the last eight years.

“The leading national authorities are unanimous in praising Indiana's improvements in child protection, often labeled 'worst to first,’ during Jim Payne's tenure. In the most recent measurements year, the number of fatalities among children under DCS oversight fell to four, an all-time low.

"Attacks on his record have ranged from innocently ignorant to despicably political and self-interested. His resignation does not alter the plain truth that thousands of Indiana children are better off, and many are alive only because of the passionate and devoted leadership of this fine public servant.”

But, Democratic state leaders cheered after they heard the announcement. Regardless, they said they want the inspector general to look into this more.

“We think that the issue we're just now hearing about... we don't know how far they go into the department and I think we need to know that," Rep. Riecken said.

Down the hall from the Democratic news conference, Republican leaders barely addressed any questions regarding Payne's resignation and allegations.

“Our business is about improving the hotline provider services and other matters of DCS, not about its leadership," said State Sen. Travis Holdman, R-District 19.

“I think this is the time to very properly acknowledge that Judge Payne is just and his family are in a very tragic and pivotal point in the life of their family,” said State Rep. Cindy Noe, R-District 87.

Noe and Holdman said their focus is on the issues and work of the DCS Study Committee. They plan to work together to introduce a bill in the beginning of the legislative session in 2013. It will “provide direct access for community professionals, such as law enforcement, school personnel, medical professionals and mental health providers, to a local DCS branch through the creation of a separate hotline or calling code number, (and to) hire more workers and put technology in place with the goal of reducing caller wait time to zero in the current centralized hotline system."

Rep. Noe said she felt there was nothing more to look into after Payne's resignation. She said the executive branch made its decision.

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