Abbott’s hate crime proposal misses mark

Governor Greg Abbott speaks before signing his new book 'Broken but Unbowed' as he launches his book tour at the Texas Public Policy Foundation in Austin, Wednesday, May 18, 2016. (Stephen Spillman / for American-Statesman)
Governor Greg Abbott speaks before signing his new book ‘Broken but Unbowed’ as he launches his book tour at the Texas Public Policy Foundation in Austin, Wednesday, May 18, 2016. (Stephen Spillman / for American-Statesman)

Politics aside, the desire to do something — really anything — to prevent the senseless shootings of police officers trying to serve the public is a reasonable and appropriate human inclination.

However, Gov. Greg Abbott’s latest push to codify such killings as hate crimes might be good political theater, but it will do little, if anything, to settle this summer’s turmoil over the relationship of law enforcement and those whom  officers are charged to protect.

Let us review: Killing a police officer in the state of Texas is a capital offense, punishable by life in prison or execution. In fact, any action against a police officer is subject to a higher level of punishment or “enhancement” than an ordinary citizen. The state is quite proficient at dealing with criminals who kill cops. For anyone looking for an express train to the Texas death chamber, that is certainly the ticket. Designating it as hate crime would not change any of those facts.

Abbott said Monday: “At a time when law enforcement officers increasingly come under assault simply because of the job they hold, Texas must send a resolute message that the state will stand by the men and women who serve and protect our communities.”

July 14, 2016 - Austin police officers stand at attention during the playing of Taps during a vigil held for the slain Dallas police officers held at the State Capitol Texas Peace Officer Memorial in Austin, Texas, on Thursday, July 14, 2016. RODOLFO GONZALEZ / AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN
July 14, 2016 – Austin police officers stand at attention during the playing of Taps during a vigil held for the slain Dallas police officers held at the State Capitol Texas Peace Officer Memorial in Austin, Texas, on Thursday, July 14, 2016. RODOLFO GONZALEZ / AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Do we stand by law enforcement? Absolutely. But if a shooter is depraved enough to target officers, knowing that the consequences could amount to being blown up by a robot, dying in a shootout or a quick trip to the execution chamber, it’s unfathomable that the hate crime label would have any effect.

Abbott’s proposed “Police Protection Act” would also ratchet up the stakes of lesser charges involving officers. (Assaulting a police officer is already a higher-level offense than assaulting anyone else: a 3rd degree felony as compared to the misdemeanor.)

Removing the judiciary’s ability to consider circumstances in lesser cases, even in cases against officers gives me reason for pause.

I am interested in Sen. John Cornyn’s and Sen. Ted Cruz’s “Back the Blue” bill. Although I object to the death penalty, it would seem that if anything in this country qualifies as a capital offense the intentional targeting and killing of officers or federal judges would top the list.

Cornyn’s bill would expand the use of federal grants to improve  relations between law enforcement agencies and their communities, and allow officers to carry firearms in federal buildings. I would need to know more about the limitations on appeals, but the rest of the provisions appear to be solutions to real weaknesses in federal law. And as Dallas Police Chief David Brown and other police leaders faced with the pressures of keeping their communities and cops safe have stressed, the answer to stopping and preventing police shootings or more violence is more complicated than heated rhetoric from any side. Brown called on people who are protesting police to apply for jobs with his department so they can be part of the solution.

Which brings me back to Texas. What is Abbott’s aim?

If it is to prevent tragedies like Dallas and Baton Rouge, his efforts are misguided. Those willing to ambush and shoot someone in cold blood are typically ready to die for their so-called “cause.” Chief Art Acevedo has stressed that the best way to prevent police shootings and violence between police and the people they are sworn to protect is through efforts that bring both sides together.

If it is to signal to officers that we recognize the dangers of their work, there are other — better — ways to do that, including rolling back open carry legislation that law enforcement has said makes their jobs harder not easier. Or additional mental health support for officers, not just those who have already been involved in an incident. Or salary stipends grants  for departments who may not work for metro departments with better pay scales, but also face danger day-in-and-day-out.

I do not pretend to know how we stop this childish merry-go-round of “black lives” versus “blue lives.” Policy makers like Abbott are acting as though this unpleasant chapter will be resolved if enough people just pick “the right side.” In fact, choosing sides is part of the problem. This is not an elementary schoolyard dispute where the person with the most people on their team wins.

We have to properly identify our adversary before we can change this dangerous and destructive dynamic. This is not black lives versus blue lives. This is America versus injustice and fear.

 

 

How my teacher stole my ability to love my name at age 9

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Viewpoints writer Gissela SantaCruz, age 7, with her older sister Nancy. Contributed/FAMILY PHOTO

I haven’t always liked my name.

Growing up in a Spanish-speaking neighborhood, the instances of coming across someone who couldn’t pronounce my name were few. I wasn’t bothered much when I did meet someone who mispronounced my name — I still don’t mind it today.

But Ms. Cox, my elementary school gym teacher, taught me at the age of 9 to hate my name.

As an outgoing kid who enjoyed the outdoors and loved playing sports, I looked forward to going into the 4th grade; that’s’ when physical education class replaced recess at the elementary school in Dallas I attended.

I remember my older sister Nancy, who was much more interested in books and fashion, telling me how she hated playing kick ball, running and being made to participate in competitive team sports in P.E. I, on the other hand, couldn’t wait to play them all.

I hadn’t thought of Ms. Cox in years. But since the tragic shootings of two black men in Minnesota and Louisiana and of five Dallas police officers, I’ve encountered on social media several videos of diversity trainer and lecturer Jane Elliott. She is most known for her Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes race experiment.

The video I came across the most was a clip of the Blue-Eyed documentary trailer where Elliott repeatedly asks members of an all-white audience to stand if they want to be treated like blacks in this country are treated. Each time she asks, no one stands.

The other video that I saw posted on social media was a clip from another Elliott documentary, The Angry Eye. That one triggered memories of Ms. Cox.

In the video, A young college student is asked to read a simple sentence — which she does, correctly every time — but the teacher, Elliott, is not satisfied with the student’s efforts. Over and over, the girl reads the sentence. Each time, she’s told she’s done it wrong. The girl can’t seem to guess what Elliott wants from her, she argues and after failing to make Elliott see how unfair she is, the student breaks down crying in frustration.

Elliott points out to the rest of the class that everyday somewhere in this country a person of color experiences a similar situation.

Ms. Cox.

That’s all I could think after watching the video.

My sister Nancy didn’t say much about Ms. Cox, who was white and in her late 50’s. Other kids called her mean and seemed to be scared of her. I’d learn on my first day of 4th grade exactly what they meant.

“Giselle (Geh-zell) Santa Cruz,” she said the first time she called for me at row call in the thickest southern drawl I’d ever heard.

From my spot on the gym floor, crossed leg, I cheerfully raised my hand to announce my presence and proudly, just as my father had taught me, said: “It’s Gissela (Gee-seh-la), miss.” I had helped strangers pronounce my name correctly before. Most would to try to say it and fail before giving up (typically with a smile which I read as embarrassment). But Ms. Cox was different.

After I said my name, there was no smile on her face. Just anger. She yelled at me words I don’t remember and then, forcefully led me by the arm to a corner where my nose was to touch one of the cold tiled walls. I wasn’t allowed to turn around. And I had to stand there the entire class period.

The scene became routine all through fourth, fifth and sixth grades.

The only time I had the chance to participate was when Ms. Cox silently took roll.

Never once did she attempt to say my name. Not once did she smile and ask if she could call me something easier to pronounce. She just demanded that I be called what she thought I ought to answer to.

It was just like the scenario in the video with Elliott and the young college student: There was no compromise. I would either accept the name Ms. Cox had for me, or pay the consequences.

Eventually, I grew to hate gym class and my name.

I began to allow others to call me names — Priscella, Drewcella, Griselda — anything but Gissela. It wasn’t until after I graduated high school that I reclaimed my given name.

Ms. Cox may have been the first of such an experience, but it wouldn’t be the last.

Today my name, my ethnicity and the color of my skin are— just as it is for millions of other Americans—source of discrimination and injustice. And just as I did at the age of 9, I will continue to stand up for myself. But I – and anyone else who has these experiences — shouldn’t have to.

 

 

 

 

Protecting Texas children from abuse requires training, accountability and money

(USE THIS PHOTO) Texas Department of Family and Protective Services Director Hank Whitman is calld to testify at a public hearing of the House of Representatives Committee on Human Services at the Capitol Tuesday July 12, 2016. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
(USE THIS PHOTO) Texas Department of Family and Protective Services Director Hank Whitman is calld to testify at a public hearing of the House of Representatives Committee on Human Services at the Capitol Tuesday July 12, 2016. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Since taking control of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services last month, Henry “Hank” Whitman has wasted no time shaking things up at the state’s child welfare agency. And if ever an agency needed an overhaul, it’s Child Protective Services, which administers the state’s troubled foster care program.

After halting hefty pay raises that were in the works for top executives and directing all 10 regional directors to reapply for their jobs, Whitman released a 10-point proposal this week aimed at keeping children in the state’s charge safe.

That is certainly welcome, as is Whitman’s focus on accountability. Consider that in 2015, 171 children died in Texas of abuse and neglect, many under tragic circumstances that were preventable. That is up from 151 in 2014. In March, agency officials said they mishandled a Dallas child abuse case in which a girl was killed.

Also consider that CPS is dealing with the fallout from a years-long lawsuit over the foster care system. U.S. District Judge Janis Jack ruled in December that CPS needed a massive overhaul to protect children from danger and that children were better off before they entered the system. Got that?

The pressure to improve the agency also is coming from Gov. Greg Abbott, and rightly so.

“I was hired, bottom line, because our governor was sick and tired of reading about infants and toddlers who were severely injured or killed while or after they were involved with Child Protective Services,” Whitman said.

Those comments came this week as he detailed his proposal to the Texas House Committee on Human Services.

The American-Statesman’s Julie Chang reported that Whitman’s plan calls for training 146 special investigators with the agency over the next few months in forensic techniques used by law enforcement so they won’t miss signs that signal that something is amiss or that a child is in danger. Those investigators then will train 2,200 caseworkers.

He also said CPS will work with the DPS to train information analysts to do criminal background checks on potentially abusive parents and guardians before caseworkers arrive at a home. Though that provision could be viewed as violating a person’s privacy, such checks have become routine in many jobs. And if done discreetly, could help protect children and caseworkers. Williamson and Milam counties are piloting such efforts now, Chang reported.

Whitman’s plan also would expand a 2014 state initiative in which all foster services for a region are transferred to one provider, allowing local communities greater flexibility in how they care for foster children. That approach has shown some positive results in Fort Worth. And in effort to increase the number of foster and adoptive parents, Whitman said he would expand partnerships with religious organizations.

Those are all good steps no doubt influenced by his law enforcement background as a former chief of the Texas Rangers. And Whitman deserves credit for identifying key problems within CPS. But those efforts also must be coupled with better support and compensation of front-line workers.

Consider that the agency pays the average entry-level caseworker about $33,000 annually. It’s no wonder that there is so much turnover and turmoil among those employees. In 2015 nearly a quarter of caseworkers quit during their first year at the agency. Those who remain are overburdened.

That is the case in Travis County, where of the 110 investigator jobs available, just 54 staffers are currently juggling dozens of cases. This spring, the number of delinquent cases in Travis County skyrocketed 76 percent.

Last month, Travis County state district Judge Darlene Byrne wrote that “Texas is doing a shameful job of parenting many of its foster children. The situation is worse than I have seen during almost 13 years as a judge hearing Child Protective Services (CPS) cases.

At a minimum, Byrne said the state must spend more money on hiring and retraining many more CPS caseworkers and pay them at a “rate that recognizes the harrowing nature of the work they do.”

I applaud Whitman’s accountability measures and his awareness that caseworkers need better pay. But improving the agency’s ability to protect foster children cannot be done on the cheap. As Whitman rightly raises the bar for CPS workers, he also must raise their pay.

 

Race talk spurred by recent shootings must be ongoing conversation

Joseph Scott holds a sign outside the memorial for fallen Dallas officers in downtown Dallas, Tuesday, July 12, 2016. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
Joseph Scott holds a sign outside the memorial for fallen Dallas officers in downtown Dallas, Tuesday, July 12, 2016. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

With the recent tragic killings in this country —including the killings of black men by police in Louisiana and Minnesota and the death of five police officers in Dallas—  the topic of race has become more prominent.

People are talking, and it’s not just people of color who are taking to social media to be heard. People from all walks of life are joining the much-needed conversation on race. And that’s important.

Though many are calling for positive change, there are still those who spew expected and tired divisive rhetoric, including sadly, some state leaders. Still, the conversations have become more diverse since last week’s shootings. The evidence is all over the internet. Whites, Blacks, Latinos, Asians — all talking about the same thing: unity and ending police brutality. Here in Central Texas, some have taken to writing their local newspapers, including Kimmie Fink, an education consultant in Temple. (Find the short op-ed she sent to Statesman Viewpoints below).

All this talk about creating a more just nation for all Americans is healthy. The key to real change, however, will be in keeping the conversation going long after the next issue steals the headlines.

The dialogue that has grown since the deaths of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and officers Brent Thompson, Lorne Ahrens, Michael J. Smith, Michael Krol and Patrick Zamarripa must continue. Otherwise, their deaths will have been in vain. Only by ending division can we truly honor their lives.

Some Central Texans have taken the time to send us correspondence to express these positive sentiments. Here are text from two letters received:

Fink’s full op-ed follows:

Kimmie Fink
Kimmie Fink

I keep hoping that someday I’ll wake up and not read about another Black American being killed by a police officer. Given recent events, that seems less and less likely. On Wednesday, July 5th, Alton Sterling was pinned to the ground by two White officers outside a Baton Rouge convenience store and shot in the chest at point-blank range. Just one day later, Philando Castile of Minnesota was fatally shot during a traffic stop while reaching for his identification. Sterling and Castile were murdered. Before we could even begin to mourn, five police officers were killed by snipers at a peaceful protest in Dallas the following day.

I am physically sickened by the horrific ambush on Dallas police, but I worry about how it will change the conversation. I have to believe that we can honor the sacrifice of police officers while also demanding that police brutality be addressed. Because it’s clear that the criminal justice system in this country is broken. According to Campaign Zero, police in the United States killed 1,100 people in 2014. Black people are killed by police at a rate disproportionate to both their criminal activity and percentage of the population. Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Gardner…the list of names grows almost daily now, and it seems like news stories of African Americans shot and killed at the hands of police are on perpetual loop.

I watched Tomi Lahren’s Final Thoughts on Jesse Williams’s BET speech and the Alton Sterling killing. She tells Williams and the Black Lives Matter movement to stop feeling sorry for themselves. That’s pretty easy to say from a position of privilege. After all, Lahren isn’t a member of a community still suffering from the painful legacy of slavery and a long history of discrimination and violence perpetrated against it. She brands them “cop haters,” and I have no doubt the tragedy in Dallas will give her more fuel. She doesn’t understand that being pro-cop and pro-Black Lives Matter aren’t mutually exclusive. Rather, we recognize that police officers, due to the nature of their work, wield a great degree of power, so we should hold them accountable when that power is abused.

The double standard is evident to anyone who cares to look. This kind of thing simply doesn’t happen to White people. Jesse Williams was right. Police do “manage to de-escalate, disarm and not kill white people every day.” In January, armed White men seized government property at the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. It was 24 days before anyone was arrested (one militant was killed during the confrontation). Take a look at how we treat White criminals as well. Stanford swimmer and RAPIST Brock Turner got only 6 months for sexual assault. White teen Ethan Couch killed four people in a drunk driving accident and got probation (which he later violated) to rehabilitate him for his “affluenza.”

When African Americans are killed by White police officers, some are quick to point out if they were guilty of prior offenses. Frankly, that’s irrelevant. When did we become a society that blames the victims? Women are blamed for their own rapes because they drank alcohol. The murders of transgender people are brushed aside because they are “provocative” targets. Black teenagers who are pulled over should just “get out of the car.” The other argument I keep hearing is “All Lives Matter.” Well, of course they do. But no one has to be told that White lives matter. The Black Lives Matter movement exists because the criminal justice system has made it clear that their lives are less valuable than White lives.

I stand with the fallen police officers and good cops across the country, but I also stand with Alton Sterling and Philando Castille’s family and friends and with Black Lives Matter. Because I am not a member of the Black community, I can never truly understand the depth of their sorrow nor the anger and fear they must feel. Those of us who live under the umbrella of relative security that is Whiteness must speak up and ensure that while we mourn the loss of the Dallas officers, we don’t allow what happened to Sterling and Castile to be swept under the rug. To quote the late Elie Wiesel, “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

Dallas’ deadly shootings: What others are saying

A Dallas police officer covers his face as he stands with others outside the emergency room at Baylor University Medical Center, Friday, July 8, 2016, in Dallas. Snipers opened fire on police officers in the heart of Dallas on Thursday night, killing some of the officers. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
A Dallas police officer covers his face as he stands with others outside the emergency room at Baylor University Medical Center, Friday, July 8, 2016, in Dallas. Snipers opened fire on police officers in the heart of Dallas on Thursday night, killing some of the officers. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

be a peaceful gathering to protest the recent deadliest incident for law enforcement in the U.S. since 9/11. Two civilians also were injured.

The attack on police in Dallas has left many speechless and fearful. Others, however, are putting voice to our worries and fears. Here is a sampling:

—————

“There are problems that our society has no idea how to fix — and the issues of race and policing are fall in that category. Body cameras help; better training helps; community policing helps; but these are not complete solutions.
Ridding ourselves of these senseless shootings requires a degree of honesty about cultural bias, white privilege and perceptions about black and brown people that I’m not confident our society can muster. And as long as the immediate — and human — instinct is to draw a weapon in the face of fear, it is inevitable that an officer will eventually shoot to kill without cause.” — Tara Doolittle, Viewpoints editor

—————

“(Dallas) Mayor Mike Rawlings’ assessment was tragically correct: ‘Our worst nightmare happened.’
Now we must wake up and unite. If we lead with anger, nobody wins.” — Dallas Morning News Editorial Board

—————

“As Thursday night melted into Friday morning, Facebook began to send messages: So-and-so is wondering if you’re OK during The Violent Crime in Dallas, Texas.
No, I’m not OK.”  — Robert Wilonsky, Dallas Morning News city columnist

—————

“Because it’s what the heart demands when it aches, we tend to search for brightness among unimaginable darkness. Sometimes the darkness is so dark the search is unimaginably difficult.” — Ken Herman, American-Statesman columnist

—————

“Yes, the good guys need our support. And I, for one, still believe in good guys.
They are the ones who ran toward the gunfire, who scrambled to get innocents out of the way, who stood in salute of fallen brethren outside the Parkland Hospital ER.
They are the only thing standing between us and the cowards who attack from comfortable perches on a peaceful Dallas street.” — Lisa Falkenberg, Houston Chronicle columnist

—————

“Dallas knows what comes next.
People will talk about guns, and hatred, and race, and Texas.
Everyone will have a hero, and a villain, and a solution, and a way to blame some political opponent.
And none of that will mean anything at all.
Because what happened Thursday night in Dallas will leave us with no easy solutions — just nightmares to haunt us for years after a bloodthirsty ambush attack on police officers of all colors who were guarding peaceful protesters of all colors.” — Bud Kennedy, Ft. Worth Star Telegram columnist

—————

“This horrendous attack on the police and the two killings this week demand sober reflection by the nation’s political and law enforcement leadership….with killings happening in cities, suburbs and rural communities, there needs to be leadership in every police department in the country that insists on cultural and attitudinal change. Credible civilian oversight of the police has to be a factor if community trust is ever to be restored. The latest ghastly images show how much has not been done, two years after Ferguson.” — New York Times Editorial Board

—————

“Brown commands more than 3,500 sworn officers, who patrol Dallas’ 1.3 million residents spread over 385 square miles. He knows, day after day, that his department is one gunshot, one overreaction, one dubious decision from becoming the next national story.
And even when they don’t, when they do their very dangerous jobs with skill and professionalism, when they run toward the gunfire to keep the rest of us safe, it might not matter. It didn’t Thursday night. And that’s the world we now live in.” — Mike Hashimoto, Dallas Morning News editorial writer

 

When will black lives matter?

Police Shooting Louisiana
In this July 5, 2016, photo made from video, Alton Sterling is detained by two Baton Rouge police officers outside a convenience store in Baton Rouge, La. Moments later, one of the officers shot and killed Sterling. (Arthur Reed via AP)

I promised myself that I would not watch the video of Alton Sterling’s death at the hands of a Baton Rouge police officer. Even in the still photos of Sterling in life, I see the face of every black man I know  — my 39-year-old brother, my male cousins, my college classmates, my friends.

Instead, I watched the video of Sterling’s widow speak at a press conference while her 15-year-old son sobbed next to her. I saw not just a boy reeling from the loss of his father, but the realization of a boy on the cusp of becoming a man that he too faces the same peril. Wrong place, wrong time, wrong cop.

WATCH: Who was Alton Sterling?

Then to be greeted this morning by news of a second police shooting death, even more egregious than the first. A black man stopped for a broken taillight in a suburb of St. Paul, Minn., shot with a 4-year-old in the back seat and his girlfriend sitting next to him. By witness accounts Philando Castile had a license to carry a handgun — a fact that he disclosed to the officer as he had been trained to do. His girlfriend streamed the aftermath on Facebook Live, which has received more than 2 million views by Thursday morning.

Just as Roxanne Gay in today’s New York Times writes,  I am also “so very tired.” I am distraught that two years of videos and outcry seems to have made little difference in the outcomes of these cases. It is one thing to talk quietly among family about how to be cautious in your dealings with police because you know the threat is real; it is entirely another to be bludgeoned month after month on social media by graphic images of case after tragic case with seemingly no end in sight.

Gay wrote:

We know what happens now because this brand of tragedy has become routine. The video of Mr. Sterling’s death allows us to bear witness, but it will not necessarily bring justice. There will be protest as his family and community try to find something productive to do with sorrow and rage. Mr. Sterling’s past will be laid bare, every misdeed brought to light and used as justification for police officers choosing to act as judge, jury and executioner — due process in a parking lot.

While gun rights activists and the National Rifle Association sanctimoniously argue about preservation of their Second Amendment Rights and their recent victories in Texas over campus carry and open carry, I know that I will never carry a firearm any further than  a gun range. I also know that I will tell my daughters to never ride in a car with a firearm, whether the owner is licensed or not. Why? Because the “hero” image in the fight for open carry and gun rights in Texas is a white man in boots, not a black man in a hoodie.

READ MORE FROM VIEWPOINTS: Sandra Bland’s death is sad reminder of double standard

There are problems that our society has no idea how to fix — and the issues of race and policing are in that category. Body cameras help, better training helps, community policing helps, but these are not complete solutions. Ridding ourselves of these senseless shootings requires a degree of honesty about cultural bias, white privilege and perceptions about black and brown people that I’m not confident our society can muster. And as long as the immediate (and human) instinct is to draw a weapon in the face of fear, it is inevitable that an officer will eventually shoot to kill without cause.

I watched both shooting videos this morning so that I could write this column. With each viewing I feel a small sliver of hope and optimism about the future for my daughters and my nephews being sliced away. But this is my job, so I can only hope that one day there are no more videos to watch, not because no one is brave enough to film, but because there is no longer anything to see.

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Forget about raising pay for execs, foster families need more money

Henry "Hank" Whitman heads the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services May 1, 2016.
Henry “Hank” Whitman heads the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services May 1, 2016.

It’s been said a number of times that the wheels of government turn slowly. But in this situation those wheels spun at near lightning speed, thanks to the ever-vigilant reporting of the American-Statesman’s Andrea Ball.

Her reporting on hefty pay raises that were in the works for top executives of the state’s Child Protective Services agency stirred outrage among state leaders who oversee the agency. Officials took swift action to halt the raises while they still were in the incubation stage.

By way of background, Ball reported that CPS agency officials were recommending that each of CPS’s 10 regional directors make a minimum of $100,000 and a maximum of $142,000. Those pay hikes, amounting to double digit increases, would have cost $268,000.

In the case of Travis County’s regional director, it would have meant a 29 percent pay raise, increasing the pay for that job to $110,000 a year, Ball reported. A memo justifying those pay raises said regional directors should make more money because they “perform complex, highly advanced managerial work.”

Ball obtained the information regarding pay raises through a confidential document provided to the American-Statesman.

That was on Wednesday. By Thursday, the agency’s recently installed chief, Henry “Hank” Whitman, killed the deal. Whitman had not seen the proposal, but no doubt had to be embarrassed by it, given the agency’s troubled past and continued dysfunction.

“No salary increases for regional directors will even be considered until clear improvement is seen at CPS,” said Patrick Crimmins, a spokesman for the state’s Department of Family and Protective Services that oversees CPS.

Aside from being tone deaf, executive pay raises seemed a brazen gesture, coming at a time when Child Protective Services is regularly criticized for its low pay for front line caseworkers.

Consider that the agency pays the average entry-level caseworker about $33,000 annually. It’s no wonder that there is so much turnover and turmoil in the agency that oversees the state’s beleaguered foster care system.

CPS is dealing with the fallout from a years-long lawsuit over the foster care system. U.S. District Judge Janis Jack ruled in December that CPS needed a massive overhaul to protect children from danger and that children were better off before they entered the system.

Ball reported that Travis County, like some other large counties, is suffering from a severe shortage of investigators. Of the 110 investigator jobs available, just 54 staffers are currently juggling dozens of cases. The number of “delinquent cases,” those open for more than 60 days, rose both locally and statewide. This spring, the number of delinquent cases in Travis County alone skyrocketed 76 percent.

In April, the Dallas regional director resigned after a Dallas Morning News article exposed severe turnover problems and soaring caseloads in that area, causing such a large backlog of cases that investigators were missing deadlines for visiting children or not visiting them at all. Agency officials also admit bungling a Dallas child abuse case in which a little girl was killed in March.

In her June 29 commentary that appeared on our Viewpoints page, Travis County state district Judge Darlene Byrne detailed the poor conditions plaguing the state’s foster care system:

“Texas is doing a shameful job of parenting many of its foster children. The situation is worse than I have seen during almost 13 years as a judge hearing Child Protective Services (CPS) cases.

“Children are sleeping on air mattresses on the floors in CPS office buildings because workers can’t find appropriate foster homes. Slightly luckier children have stayed at hotels or makeshift shelters to await placement. One child in my court waited for two weeks while exhausted CPS workers took round-the-clock shifts to stay with her at the CPS office. How traumatic and dehumanizing must this be for a child that has been removed from an abusive home and separated from all the people and things that matter to them? It is no wonder several of these children awaiting placement have run away.”

Burn went on to outline solutions:

“There’s no mystery here – to do better, we just need to spend more money for the right things. Not on highly paid consultants, but on key areas. At a minimum, we need to spend more money on: (1) hiring and retaining many more CPS caseworkers paid at a rate that recognizes the harrowing nature of the work they do; and (2) paying foster homes appropriate and sustainable reimbursement rates.”

She has a point.

Whitman, the former head of the storied law enforcement agency the Texas Rangers, has his work cut out for him persuading the Legislature to spend more, as well as sensibly, on the foster care system.

He would be wise to listen to and take advice from Judge Byrne, some experienced caseworkers and foster parents. Those are the people who know first-hand what the problems are and they are the ones who hold the answers for fixing the state’s foster care system.

If that happens, then maybe the wheels of government will finally turn faster for needy children in the state’s care.