Cindy Palmer's booking photo following her indictment on multiple charges related to her conduct as head of the county's Department of Social Services through 2018. Palmer, who is the wife of Sheriff Derrick Palmer, was indicted along with two other former DSS officials on Monday.

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Cindy Palmer, the former Department of Social Services director in Cherokee County who was indicted last month for unlawful actions that took place on her watch, will keep her job as business officer at DSS for now, the current DSS director, Amanda McGee, announced in a press release late Wednesday.

McGee said Palmer could return to work as of Thursday.

The decision follows an investigation conducted by Darryl Brown, who is Cherokee County attorney but also the attorney for the Cherokee County sheriff, currently Palmer’s husband, Derrick Palmer.

According to what the press release described as an “exhaustive investigation of the facts and law regarding Cindy Palmer’s continued employment,” McGee said she determined “there was no evidence of a current incident of unacceptable personal conduct or grossly inefficient job performance.”

McGee’s statement did not address Palmer’s actions during her previous position with DSS. The agency has been cited for unlawfully removing children from homes without judicial authority, which a judge later described as fraudulent.

Cindy Palmer and two other former DSS officials face indictments on more than three dozen felonies and misdemeanors due to those actions. Last month, the grand jury that handed up those indictments also indicted Palmer for felony perjury due to statements she made in court in 2018.

After the unlawful child seizures came to light two years ago, the DSS board suspended Palmer as director. However, an interim director allowed Palmer to resign and immediately accept a new position as business director.

McGee’s statement emphasized that North Carolina personnel law would not allow the dismissal of Palmer from her job for actions that did not take place during her current position with the agency.

However, McGee incorrectly describes that situation in her statement, saying that Kay Fields, who hired Palmer as business director, was an interim DSS director appointed by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services.

Fields was actually contracted as interim director by the Cherokee County DSS board through Vanguard Professional Staffing. DHHS had taken oversight of Child Protective Services in Cherokee County at the time but had no role in allowing Palmer to be rehired while she was under scrutiny by the State Bureau of Investigation.

Later in 2018, the Cherokee County Board of Commissioners, some of whom are up for reelection this year, dissolved the DSS board and made the commissioners the DSS board. They then hired McGee, who had held a position with Rutherford County DSS.

While the charges in the indictments do not include any activity during Palmer’s current position, the SBI and likely other agencies are believed to be continuing investigations into activities at DSS at the time she returned to work there two years ago.

Carolina Public Press’ investigation of this chain of events in 2018 found evidence of massive document shredding at DSS at the precise time that Palmer returned to work. A contractor who provides shredding services to DSS billed the agency for a volume of work many times greater than normal during the summer of 2018.

No satisfactory explanation for the shredding has ever been provided. One statement indicated that it was done to clear up urgently needed space, but the space supposedly created by clearing out documents remained unused more than a year later, CPP found.

The local district attorney brought the shredding activity to the attention of both the SBI and federal authorities last year after CPP reported it. The issue is of interest to federal authorities because the agency faces a federal civil suit. A former FBI official told CPP last year that if anything related to that lawsuit was destroyed, it could constitute federal obstruction of justice.

Frank Taylor

Frank Taylor is the managing editor of Carolina Public Press. Contact him at ftaylor@carolinapublicpress.org.

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