Journalists’ Roundtable

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Join us for another edition of the Journalists’ Roundtable, as local reporters recap the big news of the week.

Ted Simons: Coming up next on "Arizona Horizon's" Journalists' Roundtable. Child Protective Services discovers 6,000 uninvestigated reports of abuse and neglect. Congressman Ron Barber announces that he is running for a re-election. And the fight over the use of medical marijuana extract for children continues. Those stories next on the Journalists' Roundtable.

Announcer: "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the friends of Eight. Members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Arizona Horizon's" Journalists' Roundtable, I'm Ted Simons. Joining me tonight are Luige Del Puerto of the Arizona Capitol Times, Howard Fischer of Capitol Media Services, and Mike Sunnucks of the Phoenix Business Journal. Arizona Child Protective Services is in the news, again, this time after the agency discovered that 6,000 calls to the CPS child abuse hotline were, essentially, ignored?

Luige Del Puerto: Ignored, that's right. CPS revealed this week that between 2009 and now, there have been 6,000 cases that were, essentially, dropped, in the sense that they did not assign them to investigators, it is not a case of caseworkers being overloaded and not being able to get this case. It never got there.

Ted Simons: Never got investigated.

Luige Del Puerto: Never got investigated.

Howard Fischer: And what happened was, they had formed this SWAT team of social workers, to kind of take a look at the calls as they came in. Every one of them is logged in, and they went through, and these are supposed to be forwarded to field offices, and a supervisor decides priorities one through four, with what goes out immediately and what gets handled with a phone call, they remove that and mark them N.I., not for investigation, and simply took them out of the computer system. This was only discovered by accident. This was discovered because they brought in a special investigator to the office of child welfare, and one of his officers was asked about whatever happened to such a case, and he discovers, what's this N.I. designation? The more they heard, they found out that of those 6,000, 3,000 were since the first of the year.

Ted Simons: I thought by statute, every report was supposed to be investigated. What is an N.I. doing in there?

Mike Sunnucks: Every report by statute, by law, has to be investigated. Now, tips like Howie said, they can classify as things immediate concern, we have to check this out and down the line, so the tips are different than reports, and complaints. So, but yeah, nothing happened -- compare this to the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office out in El Mirage. That was 400 cases. This is 6,000, to show you, show you the magnitude of this. And this agency goes back to their long-term problems, of budgets and overwork and understaffed and the pay that the people get there, in the $30,000 range, but it's hard for anybody to do any damage.

Howard Fischer: And what's interesting about this is when some of us thought that was Clarence Carter yesterday before the CPS committee meeting, and we said ok, how did this happen and who is responsible? Well, we're looking at it. This was not one or two rogue employees. It cannot be. You cannot have something go off in four years over different divisions of CPS, and not have somebody make it an unofficial policy. Now, the question is, the Governor, who he's say, I'm not saying I'm getting rid of Clarence but she has the Department of Public Safety looking at it. She wants to find out, how did this happen and who ordered this? How did this go on, and how come we only discovered it by accident?

Mike Sunnucks: If the past, you have seen these horrific cases where children ended up dying or were severely abused, and it was like Howie said, like a case-by-case thing, missteps, we did this wrong, and this is more of a macro thing. A lot of Democrats calling for Carter's ouster, and the Democrats want a special session.

Luige Del Puerto: It's mind-boggling. 6,000 cases a 20-month period, there is a fundamental problem within CPS, and the system is broken there, and it needs to be fixed.

Ted Simons: Is how does it get fixed? What happens here? The Governor already saying, don't blame the money. And yet, almost everyone that looks at this says you need more people, and you need people to stay, the turnover is horrendous with that agency.

Howard Fischer: That's piece of it, but remember that the legislature last year approved 200 new staffers, including caseworkers. And so, she's right to the extent that you cannot say this is money because, as Luige pointed out, it's not like the field staffers said, I don't have the time. And put it off. This never even got to them. I'm not questioning they don't need more money. The question of how do you fix it? I think that that's why you need somebody from the outside, whether it's DPS or somebody to look at the system. Clearly something is wrong with the triage system. Something is wrong with how they prioritize cases, which leads to the horror stories that Mike has talked about of kids that end up dead, and leads to the cases like there where you find out 6,000 cases disappear.

Ted Simons: So does CPS, do you remove CPS from des, do you make it, its own beast there and -- this has been a problem for years.

Mike Sunnucks: Like Howie mentioned, if you can do a Google search you will see reports from Symington, Hall, Napolitano, and looking at this problem, and you could split it out, and there is arguments for and against that. People talked about putting the agencies under the state police, somehow, and somehow changing the culture because you have a lot of social workers there, and sometimes those folks maybe are not accustomed or geared towards investigations. And law enforcement type things.

Howard Fischer: That's why they put in the investigator, the Greg McKay, the guy who discovered it, that's specifically why the legislature changed the law to, put in some criminal investigators. He's a homicide investigator by background, on loan from Phoenix P.D., and there is more of an emphasis on looking at the criminal side.

Luige Del Puerto: And Mike might have hit on something here. There is a culture within CPS, and Detective McKay is from a different culture. So there's one guy who's coming from a completely different background, being loaned to CPS and finding out something like this. And what the fix is, we're not really sure, there are many ideas, and one of them is splitting CPS into its own agency. That remains to be seen if that works, too.

Howard Fischer: And simply, but the problem is, simply taking it out and putting over here doesn't solve a systemic problem. You may need to reinvent the agency.

Ted Simons: I think that's the idea. You would just not put it as it is. You would make it its own agency and just restructure the whole doggone thing.

Mike Sunnucks: Yeah. I see how much they make, the caseworkers, $35,000 year, and this is similar to a lot of other states. We're not alone. And there is going to be a lot of people that are going to leave because of this, there are people doing good work over there, and they are overwhelmed, and they get so much bad press because of things like this (well-deserved). And they are going to have more turnover, and this will have a numbing effect on families and folks going through it. It is hard enough to come forward, and you hear this on the news that people call in and nobody listens, so it's a big morale slump.

Ted Simons: So, but, the reports are, at least somewhere in the neighborhood of 12,000 uninvestigated, incomplete cases right now, and you just have now dumped half as much on that 12,000. And how is that going to get done?

Howard Fischer: I asked Carter that three different times. How are you going to do it? We'll have a plan. How are you going to do it? Trust me, I'm your DES director. To certain extent, what it came down to, when I talked to the Governor's office today, they said look, we'll make the overtime available but you still only have -- look, if they cannot keep up with what they have got now, you only got 24 hours in a day. You cannot defy the laws of physics.

Luige Del Puerto: Part of the solution would have to be fund for CPS, and some more resources for CPS. I mean, those two have got to be a part of the mix. You cannot solve 6,000 cases, or attempt to solve 6,000 cases if you are, they are overburdened right now.

Howard Fischer: One good thing, for years they have had to fight for CPS money. This was a wakeup call. I think that the moment anybody comes and for more money, we won't, you know, there will be a few people, nickel and diming it, you know, and everything else but I think that there is a recognition here, that when children are involved, one of the cases they came across, was a kid called in, and said, my dad is burning my brother with an iron. But itfell into the N.I., not investigated category.

Ted Simons: That's unacceptable. That's not even approaching anywhere near acceptable.

Luige Del Puerto: I mean, if you come to think of it, if you look closely into it, this is a state failing to protect its most vulnerable citizens, children, who are being, potentially being abused and being neglected, and that's a huge problem.

Ted Simons: Clarence, the quote we were taking out of this, when he said, I'm not sure if kids are in harm's way. Is this a former DES director walking right now?

Mike Sunnucks: He was in D.C. with the district there, with the city Government there, the bush administration, and administering the food stamps before that, and he's come under a lot of fire. They did fess up on this. They did come out and say, this happened, and --

Howard Fischer: Wait, wait, wait a minute. But, he didn't -- it was not like this was discovered. It was brought to him by Greg McKay. To answer your question, I would keep the moving van on speed dial.

Mike Sunnucks: He's in trouble but, a lot of public officials, both parties would cover this up. This is really bad. He's probably going to lose his job because of this. And so a lot of folks would have covered this up. And so, they at least get credit for doing that. The long-term thing, you have got to pay these people more that work there, and you have got to hire more and spend money on this. We're not the only state that suffers from these problems with the CPS type of agency, but that takes a commitment that we have not seen for multiple administrations.

Howard Fischer: I have got to differ with you. It would have been covered up except for the outside. We would never have known. The outsider, if Clarence hadn't come forward, Greg McKay would have come forward, and the CPS oversight committee met yesterday afternoon, if Clarence hadn't come forward, Greg would say here's what's going on. Greg owes no loyalty to the organization. Would we have had a Press Conference saying by the way? No, I don't think so.

Ted Simons: Last point, even Carter said the Governor hit the roof and was very upset about this. This has to be an embarrassment for Governor Brewer with the Republican Governors in town.

Howard Fischer: Let's just say, she was giving speeches, some of them closed door sessions about the Arizona comeback and look what we have done and we've been able to do this with a lot less money, and the headline in the morning paper is oh, my God.

Ted Simons: That's not the headline you want to see when you are hosting other Republicans.

Mike Sunnucks: Right, we just had the Apple announcement, that was a huge coup and the commerce authority, and their plant in Mesa, and this, obviously, overshadows this. And in fairness, this issue, as we talked about, has gone on throughout the administrations. It has been problem but this is probably especially egregious.

Luige Del Puerto: This is something that's close to the Governor's heart. She said, time and time again, protecting our children, it's a priority, and of course, this happens.

Mike Sunnucks: The problem is, everyone, she has said that, but the money, the money is never -- the proof is always in the pudding.

Ted Simons: We will, obviously, keep an eye on this and talk about it on Monday with Senator Barto. Speaking kids, there is a five-year-old who is very much in the news regarding medical marijuana and medical marijuana extracts, and there is a county attorney that says, I understand. I think it might even help you, but, it's against the law.

Howard Fischer: It's against the law. The problem comes down to a quirk in the 2010 voter-approved law, and nobody -- I have to admit I didn't know that there was a difference between marijuana and cannabis. To me it's all the stuff you put in your brownies and smoke or eat or whatever. I would not know anything about that.

Ted Simons: Of course.

Howard Fischer: Anyway, turns out, when they adopted the law, they said, you can legally have marijuana. And which is, which is the plant, the stems, the seeds, the leaves, the flowers, but there is a separate definition of cannabis, which is an extract. And cannabis was never legalized. Now, the problem in this kids' case, he's suffering seizures, his mom has figured out that if you give them an extract of a particular chemical that comes out of marijuana, it helps the seizures, number one, and number two, it does not have the side effects making him high, and number three, they will have to chop up the plant and put it in his applesauce and try to get him to swallow it. All of a sudden, Bill Montgomery tells police departments, these extracts are being sold around the state, they are not legal. Dispensary stops selling it, kid can't get an extract, they sue, and Bill Montgomery says to the court, you cannot Sue me for advising these police departments that way, and they have no rights to demand this extract.

Mike Sunnucks: There is a lot of case law that needs to be worked out in Arizona and other states on medical marijuana because the Federal law, because of what voters have approved in these states, so this is one of the cases, and the folks on the legalization side love these cases because you have this sympathetic, ill child here, the extract seemed to help him. So this furthers their cause in the courts, to kind move the puck forward towards more normalization of marijuana.

Luige Del Puerto: I understand where the county attorney is coming from when he's saying, I have to enforce the law. This is how I read it, and I have to enforce it but I think the solution he's offering is a high hurdle. He wants, essentially, this family to go to the legislature and say, why don't you amend this voter-approved law, and get the three fourth's vote and hope everybody would agree with the intent of the proposition. It seems like a high hurdle.

Mike Sunnucks: It's certainly a contrast what the Bush and the Obama administration has done with state medical marijuana law. They said, it's against the Federal law. We're not going to prosecute a grandmother or a child like this. We're not going to pursue the case, so it is an interesting tact to make this the poster child case from Montgomery's perspective.

Howard Fischer: And going deeper, if you look at what voters did approve, they said, a, food products specifically are allowed. And b, it mentions preparation.

Ted Simons: Yes.

Howard Fischer: And so the question becomes, if I'm a trial judge, and I see that it's specifically allows food products and preparations, how hypersensitive am I going to get, and how hypertechnical am I going to get about whether this stuff in a vial that a kid needs is, in fact, illegal.

Ted Simons: Is the county attorney and Bill Montgomery is considered a rising star in state politics. Is he tone deaf on this one?

Howard Fischer: I think he's -- I'm going to say this in a way may not like. I think he's a bit of a boy scout. He sees things in black and white terms. He doesn't believe the medical marijuana law is legal because of the Federal law, and he may be right. Now, is it possible but that does not mean every prosecutor has to go after every violation of the law. He said look, I'm not prosecuting these people. I'm not going after them. I'm simply advising police who ask me about the dispensaries, what they can sell and cannot. I'm just following the law.

Mike Sunnucks: You could see it both ways, politically. This could appeal to folks, conservative and older folks in the Republican primary. If he wants to stay the county attorney, there is not much of a Democratic opponent that will pop up. If he wants to run statewide for Attorney General or something else, where you are dealing with a lot of voters, then maybe people will hold this against him.

Ted Simons: Ok. Let's look south here. Ron Barber, wasn't committing, and all of a sudden says I'm going to do it, go for re-election. What was this all about?

Luige Del Puerto: So, last Sunday or last weekend, he spoke to one of our reporters, Ben Giles. Ben Giles is working on the story about the race in that district, and Barber told him I have not really decided whether I'm seeking re-election or not. I have to go back to my family. And ask them whether this is something that they would support. It's the same thing that he said before when he was deciding, whether to run for Gabby Giffords's seat, so we wrote the story saying, this guy, has been raising funds and has been voting in a way that we think all needs to him seeking re-election. Exactly not really set on running. So, we reported on that, and I think a day after, he said, well, ok, I'm running.

Howard Fischer: Well, what happened in between was all of a sudden, the RNCC, Republican National Campaign Committee, puts out a notice saying, well, hey, you know, look. The guy isn't sure he wants his own seat. This is one of those tossup districts, and so you know, I think that, you know, asked about some people being tone deaf, and I think Ron is a little tone deaf. He was a staffer for Gabby, not a politician by background, and rather than answering, you know, my focus is on serving the constituents, I'm leaning towards running, and obviously, there is lots of time for that, and I am here to serve my constituents, and he gives the answer, well, I don't know. And, and then that --

Mike Sunnucks: And when you talk to him, he talks, actually, like a normal person, and not like an elected official like Howie mentioned, the answers you would get. So, it was more of an off the cuff real answer, that was tough race last time with him and McSally. And the Republicans are looking at these Arizona seats with Obamacare tanking the way it is, and seeing possibilities there, but Ron is kind of a moderate Democrat.

Ted Simons: How dare you call him a normal person, goodness, gracious, he's running for Congress, for goodness sakes. [Laughter] Let's talk about state legislature, district 21. Rick Murphy out there, with a variety of problems. And he's an incumbent. Now, another Republican in the House, saying, I don't think that -- I'm going to take on.

Yeah. And Representative Debbie Lesko, who is from the same district as Rick Murphy, decided this week that she is going to run, and basically, challenge an incumbent party mate because she thought, or she thinks that seat will be vulnerable, it could fall to Democrat or, in her words, a liberal Republican. And if Rick Murphy ends up being the Republican nominee, and we know that Murphy has been struggling with personal woes, he is still being investigated by CPS, over child molestation and, and you know, his wife filed divorce papers, and in September. So, clearly, this is an incumbent Senator, undergoing a lot of family problems and she's thinking that we have to keep that. And the only way to do it is for me to run for it.

Mike Sunnucks: The seat's in Sun City and Peoria, this is the center of Trent Frank's district --

Ted Simons: Yeah, yeah.

Mike Sunnucks: Elizabeth Warren's not going to walk in and win that seat. She sees an opportunity, and Murphy is really struggling and probably will not, obviously, win that, so, it's an opportunist thing, but that's what folks run for office and do.

Luige Del Puerto: That's what he said, you know. Murphy's older reporter, this is a very cold calculation on Representative Lesko's part.

Howard Fischer: I love the fact that he's talking about liberal Republicans. Everybody is to the left of Debbie in a lot of these issues, so, you know. She's an opportunist in a lot of ways, and that's not a bad thing. All politicians are, but she felt the wind blowing and said I feel a draft.

Mike Sunnucks: The last time I didn't see many Carolyn Allen or Nelson Rockefellers down in that district.

Ted Simons: So with that in mind, Murphy, you know, with the problems, with the saddle, on the back, Lesko with the ambition. Who wins?

Mike Sunnucks: Lesko, easily.

Ted Simons: What do you think?

Howard Fischer: I think that it's going to come down to the fundraising. She has -- remember, Debbie has saddled up to the American Legislative Exchange Council.

Ted Simons: We had her on the show to talk about it.

Howard Fischer: And these are the who's who special interests. If she needs money, they will find it for her.

Ted Simons: You think Lesko will be the favorite in that race?

Luige Del Puerto: I think Rick Murphy would be going to this campaign. If he does end up running for seeking re-election, in a disadvantage, and that's simply because he's going to, through so much right now. And I can't imagine -- let me rephrase it this way, all the things he's going through, all of that will be in the flyer come next year.

Ted Simons: Yeah. All right, real quickly, who is T.J. Shope and why does he want to mess with this?

Luige Del Puerto: T.J. Shope is, is a freshmen Republican from the, oh, I can't even say which part of the state.

Ted Simons: Coolidge?

Luige Del Puerto: Coolidge area. And he's a freshmen lawmaker, and there was the story about the size of the legislative districts, and one of the big, largest in the nation is here in Arizona. He thought maybe we could split the districts. And they split the house districts and, and carve them into two. Still have the same 19 lawmakers.

Howard Fischer: Look, I've been covering the place since ‘82 and we've been talking about that so instead of having just a district 21, we would have, for the Senate, 21a and 21b. Well, if you think there are problems now with redistricting, you carve the district, then what, each member has to live in the district and somebody has to move? They have been talking about this for years. And, on one hand, it makes sense to the extent that you have fewer constituents to report to, but on the other hand, the logistics of the thing and having the redistricting commission come in and carve out, essentially, 60 districts rather than 30, oh, you are talking real heartburn.

Mike Sunnucks: Gerrymandering is an inalienable right of legislatures so they have to find ways to do that, and where is Carlton Begay going to fit into this

Ted Simons: I can't even do the calculus on what that would be. Before we go, this is the 50th anniversary, if you will, of the Kennedy assassination. You gentlemen were not around for that, some of us were. As young as I possibly was. And there are all sorts of stories of me as a five-year-old watching the funeral. However, Howie, you were of age to understand what was going on here. Your thought, 50 years ago?

Howard Fischer: It was one of those things, I was 13 at the time, and you know, the first initial reaction, it was the end of the school day, and they announced it over the speakers, that he was shot. And I spent the weekend in front of the TV. And this was pre-Twitter, pre-Cnn and having some idiot standing in the street, "well, Tom, there is nothing happening here now." But, watching the thoughtful analysis of what had occurred, watching the restraint of the networks, that's what I'm left with, you know. You had CBS putting an orchestra on the air all weekend. The funeral on Monday, is still gives me tingles. The, the John-John saluting the casket.

Ted Simons: Of everything, as a five-year-old, that's what I remember, is the funeral.

Howard Fischer: And that's the thing, and you know, even as a 13-year-old, you know, I had grandparents who died, you know. That was family. This was larger than me, and it struck me as the country mourning.

Mike Sunnucks: They were a celebrity family. People loved them. And John-John and Carolyn and people -- it was the first TV President stuff. And I remember growing up, my mom told me that I couldn't root for the Dallas Cowboys because that's where Dallas was where Kennedy was killed. And there is a lot of stories you hear from that generation, that is what is associated with Dallas, is that episode.

Ted Simons: And I think to a certain generation, yes, you are right, I think that Dallas, in particular, and Texas in general, there is that particular stain that will exist until that generation moves on. Gentlemen, good to have here and thanks for joining us.

Ted Simons: Monday on "Arizona Horizon," state Senator Nancy Barto, co-chair of the CPS oversight committee, will discuss what can be done to get CPS up to any kind speed, and we'll hear about this year's Spirit of Enterprise award winners. Those stories on Monday right here on "Arizona Horizon." That is it for now. I'm Ted Simons. Thank you so much for joining us. You have a great weekend.

Announcer: "Arizona Horizon" is made possible by contributions from the friends eight. Members your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

Luige Del Puerto:Arizona Capitol Times; Howard Fischer:Capitol Media Services; Mike Sunnucks:Phoenix Business Journal;

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