After months of controversy surrounding the death of 3-year-old Marcus Fiesel in August 2006 and a legal process regarding Butler County Children’s Services Board executive director Jann Heffner’s employment, a decision was reached April 19 to terminate Heffner’s contract.
In a decision described by Butler County Children’s Services Board public relations director Denise Winkler as made with great regret, the board decided to terminate Heffner’s contract without cause, effective May 4.
Winkler said this means that while Heffner did not do anything wrong in her performance or actions, due to political pressure and the impending “redesignation” of the board, it was in their best interest to end the contract.
“The board believes she is one of the best directors,” Winkler said.
William S. Newsome, social work program director at Miami University, said that in light of everything that has happened with the board, he hopes that some better measures will be put on children’s services boards to prevent an incidents like Fiesel’s death in the future.
“Some greater checks and balances need to be in place regarding children’s services,” Newsome said.
The legal action under which this decision was made comes after Heffner originally submitted her resignation Feb. 16, in the wake of public scrutiny over Fiesel’s death.
“She felt she had become a target and a distraction,” Winkler said. “She has been the focal point of a great deal of press coverage, and she felt that if she resigned, perhaps the community could move forward.”
Winkler said that Jeff Centers, the board’s director of finance, was chosen to take over Heffner’s position as interim director April 16. Yet the county commissioners – who appoint board members and oversee the hiring of a director at children’s services – sent a letter to the board about a month ago discussing redesignation and denying Centers’ appointed position.
Winkler explained that the letter was sent shortly after the board had accepted Heffner’s resignation. She said that following the acceptance, the board entered into a yearlong contract with Heffner for her consulting services to assist with the transition to a new director.
Winkler said this redesignation, now considered imminent, may mean a great change in how the board is run. As a result, the board may be done away with and the agency may merge into the Butler County Job and Family Services Agency.
“(The commission) still has to vote for this to happen, but it’s what they said is going to happen,” Winkler said.
To present their views, Winkler said the board made a presentation to the commissioners discussing the positive achievements the agency has made, such as an 11.1 percent increase from 2003 to 2005 in the number of children replaced with their birth families.
Winkler said the board also presented their view that having a board structure is the best option for serving children and families.
She said the commissioners were not pleased with this.
According to Winkler, the county prosecutor – who became involved after public outcry surrounding Heffner’s accepted resignation and year-long contract as a consultant for the board – also presented a letter to the board in March stating that the consulting contract was not legal. The prosecutor then recommended three steps that could further lead to acceptance or termination of Heffner’s contract.
These steps included a reversal of the acceptance of the contract, a redesignation and a reversal of the appointed interim director.
As a result, Winkler said the board is still looking for an interim director, and that they will consider one at their regularly scheduled meeting April 24. She said while she does not know who the board is considering or will choose, she does believe Centers in still up for consideration.
Winkler said the board has 60 days, or until May 11, from the time the letter was sent by the county prosecutor to notify the county commissioners of its position regarding the redesignation.