Tuesday, July 21, 1998Cabin Window: Two days --- Did jailing punish DHS?
Last modified at 1:36 p.m. on Tuesday, July 21, 1998
The Arkansas Department of Human Services has dozens of agencies and thousands of employees. Does an entity this large really care -- or even know -- that one of its employees spent the weekend in jail for her on-the-job actions?
Sandi Doherty was sentenced to two days in the Faulkner County Detention Center because she defied a court order to make sure utilities were restored at the home of a truant girl and her mother.
The case went all the way up to the Supreme Court and back down before Circuit-Chancery Judge Karen Baker made the sentence stick Friday.
Ms. Doherty's supervisor, who was not in her present position in 1996 when the incident took place, showed up in court and offered to serve the jail time in her place. Judge Baker said, because Ms. Doherty made the decision not to follow the court order and not to show up in court at two hearings, it was her sentence to serve.
Part of the point of the judge's ruling was to show DHS it cannot defy a court order like a class bully who doesn't like what he is told to do. The monolithic state agency often appears to be too big to comprehend, but it cannot lose in this huge mass the fact that it must follow the rules.
DHS officials expressed concern about setting a precedent of paying utility bills for others who could not afford such services. By not making sure the utilities were connected in this case, the agency left a teen-age girl and her mother in a house without water or electricity for 53 days.
There are other organizations that take on paying utility bills in emergency situations, but that is not the point here. In this instance, a judge filed an order and it was ignored.
DHS officials, on one hand, talked about the cost of paying for the utilities in this case. On the other hand, they offered to place the girl in a foster home; all the while admitting this would cost more in the long run than providing the utilities. The bureaucrats seemed to have a hard time getting their story straight.
The officials also said having the utilities restored would violate DHS policy, a claim which the Arkansas Supreme Court refuted. There appears to be a question as to whether the agency knows about all of its policies. Or if it just interprets policy as is convenient.
This isn't a case of the pipsqueak beating the bully. It's a case of the bully having to realize that, just because he is bigger than everyone else, he still can't do whatever he wants.
That is, if he's listening.
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