- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 17, 2008

D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty yesterday held a private meeting with employees of the city’s Child and Family Services Agency, two days after firing six agency workers for failing to help four girls found dead last week in a Southeast row house.

The meeting, held at Southeastern University in Southwest, was closed to the public because “personnel issues are not public information,” a mayoral spokeswoman said.

Last week, Banita Jacks, 33, of Southeast, was charged with killing her four daughters, ages 5, 6, 11 and 16. The girls’ decomposing bodies were found by U.S. marshals serving an eviction notice at the Jacks home in Southeast, and officials said five city agencies — including CFSA — had contact with the family before the girls were killed.

“The point of the meeting was to talk to the employees of CFSA … and to let them know that despite the Jacks case, we all have a big job to do in providing great services to the people of this city, specifically to kids who are in the neglect and abuse system,” Mr. Fenty, a Democrat, said afterward.

Applause could be heard during the roughly hourlong session, which began on a tense note when about 15 agency workers walked out.

The employees, who are members of the local union that represents some CFSA workers, said Mr. Fenty arrived late to the meeting and thought he heard someone in the crowd suck their teeth.

He then singled out an employee and told her to leave, they said. The other employees followed, saying Mr. Fenty was “paranoid” and “acting like a 5-year-old.”

“He didn’t even allow us an opportunity to voice our concerns,” said Deborah Courtney, president of the union, Local 2401 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. “These folks are concerned that if they do their job, they’ll be gone.”

Asked about the charges that he was disrespectful to the employees, Mr. Fenty afterward called the Jacks case a “very tough situation.”

“What you do in a case that’s tough, you don’t shy away from it,” Mr. Fenty said. “I think you go right in and try and figure out where there are problems and where they need to be fixed.”

The mayor would not comment on morale in the agency.

Mr. Fenty on Monday announced the firings of six agency workers that officials said “touched” the Jacks case.

He has said as many as eight employees could be dismissed. Yesterday, he said officials were continuing their investigation into what government measures could have prevented the girls’ deaths.

He also expressed confidence in the agency and its employees as city officials work to reform the department.

“We’ve got the best employees in the country [and] the best management,” Mr. Fenty said. “We’ll learn from any mistakes and the city will be better off for it.”

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