Transylvania County Courthouse in Brevard.

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The attorney for a terminated Transylvania County Department of Social Services supervisor whom the courts ordered reinstated told Carolina Public Press this week that he’s planning to file a contempt complaint against the county and several officials who have refused to give the supervisor her job back.

Renee Crocker was fired from her position as supervisor of the DSS Child Protective Services unit in 2015, following allegations that Crocker used her professional relationship with a judge to get advice about a custody case in which she had a personal stake.

Tracy Jones, who terminated Crocker, had been hired as Transylvania’s DSS director a few weeks earlier, after directing Graham County DSS for several years.

Jones resigned from her position with the county in August, according to an Oct. 27 Transylvania County press release announcing the hiring of Darrell Renfroe as the new DSS director.

Crocker sued the county through the state Office of Administrative Hearings, which concluded that her firing was unjustified because the county failed to balance her improper contact with the judge against the whole of her tenure as a county employee, which began in 1999.

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The county took the case to the state Court of Appeals, and a three-judge panel ordered in March that Crocker should be given her job back. The county filed a petition asking the North Carolina Supreme Court to hear the case, but the court denied that motion on Nov. 1.

Transylvania County officials have, so far, still refused to give Crocker her job back. Barton said he plans to file a contempt complaint against the county and several unnamed county officials in an effort to compel them to reinstate Crocker.

“The county is still willfully refusing to comply,” Barton said. “I’m going to have to cite the county and specific individuals for contempt.”

Barton said he has been contacted by attorneys for the county who want to discuss an offer to settle the case, but that he’s “not settling anything.”

Judge’s recusal, problems at CPS

Crocker was fired because she contacted the judge who was mediating a custody dispute between her daughter’s boyfriend and another woman, asking the judge for advice about traveling out of state with the child at the center of the case.

That judge later recused herself from the case. Jones wrote in her termination letter to Crocker that “multiple complaints and allegations have been made against you with all involving use of your position with the Transylvania County Department of Social Services to influence court decisions in a private custody case that is not affiliated with our agency.”

Crocker’s tenure as supervisor of the CPS unit also resulted in a scathing report from state regulators about the quality of the work the unit was doing.

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services published a report in July 2015 that said the CPS unit wasn’t properly screening reports, wasn’t checking temporary placement families for criminal backgrounds and wasn’t giving CPS employees the proper training to do their jobs.

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The administrative law judge who initially ruled in Crocker’s favor found that Jones fired Crocker without directly considering the negative review — or any other positive or negative aspects of Crocker’s tenure, for that matter — basing the decision solely on her misconduct with the judge.

Renfroe, the new DSS director, said on his online Transylvania County employee page that he hopes to remedy past problems in the CPS unit.

“Child Protective Services/Children’s Services programs are under a Program Improvement Plan with the State,” Renfroe said.

“We have made mistakes in the past and Transylvania County DSS has lost trust by many of our community partners. I hope to see the Children’s Services programs continue moving forward and continuing to make progress in order to be able to gain the trust back from these community partners and I feel we are well on our way.”

Michael Gebelein

Michael Gebelein was an investigative reporter with Carolina Public Press. To contact Carolina Public Press, email info@carolinapublicpress.org or call 828-774-5290.

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