- The Washington Times - Monday, March 24, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

When politicians and their minions are this quiet, something’s amiss.

Relisha Tenau Rudd is 8 years old.

It is not clear, even amid continuous local news reporting, when she last was with either of her parents.

It is not clear when she last attended school.

It is not clear if she is alive.

It is not clear when, precisely, she went missing.

And it is not clear whether an adult man who befriended Relisha is helping or hurting her. Kahlil Tatum, who worked at the Southeast homeless shelter where Relisha and her family lived, is missing and is suspected of killing his wife.

For now, it is certain that people who know Relisha are hoping and praying for the best of possible outcomes.

With so many open-ended questions regarding a missing child, it’s time to ask some pointed questions of city officials.

The few key public servants who need prodding on the hot seat:

Mayor Vincent C. Gray, who is seeking re-election and spent much of his adult life in the health-and-welfare sector.

D.C. Council member Jim Graham, who is seeking re-election and oversees the Department of Human Services.

Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lanier, whose department failed to issue a timely Amber Alert for Relisha.

Human Services Director David A. Berns, Relisha’s de facto caretaker.

Mr. Berns’ agency is responsible for ensuring that Relisha is housed, clothed, fed and schooled, and that her health care needs are addressed.

It is obvious that the government dropped more than one ball in her case, given information that has emerged since she went missing sometime late last month:

A violent predator may have been in Relisha’s midst at the shelter.

In response to queries from Mr. Graham’s office, Human Services responded that as of Feb. 21, the “median length of stay for families at D.C. General is 98 days or 3.27 months.”

Is that a fact in the case of Relisha’s family?

And regarding the homeless shelter’s employees and the contractors, what about background checks?

Mr. Berns has a lot of explaining to do, considering that D.C. officials just reformed Child and Family Services programs following the gruesome case of Banita Jacks, a mother under the purview of Child and Family Services who was convicted in 2009 of killing her four daughters after their decomposed bodies were found at home.

In Relisha’s case, WRC-TV (Channel 4) reported the “D.C. Child and Family Services agency had an active case working when Relisha went missing, along with three prior cases dating back to 2007.”

Those earlier cases “included lack of food, insufficient shelter, medical neglect, inadequate supervision and at least one report of the mother hitting one of her children,” the station said.

As for Chief Lanier, ask her to get it straight: Why was there a delay in issuing an Amber Alert for Relisha? How was the blunder fixed?

The mayor appointed Mr. Berns and Chief Lanier, so the buck stops at the desk of Mr. Gray’s 6th floor offices in City Hall.

Mr. Graham, Ward 1 Democrat, needs to borrow a stiffened spine.

Merely asking routine questions, like how many people are served in a program and how much money was spent in a given fiscal year, are hardly probing.

Similar rudimentary questions were asked before and after the Jacks girls were slaughtered — and those questions failed to protect the victims.

Mr. Graham needs to act like a hard-nosed trial lawyer — not an advocate digging deeper into public coffers.

The public wants to know.

The public deserves to know.

Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.