BAKERSVILLE – The Mitchell County Board of Commissioners has called for an independent review of the Mitchell County Department of Social Services.
The commissioners unanimously approved the decision to initiate the review Monday, March 2, during the board’s regular meeting.
Additionally, Commissioner Jeff Harding suggested DSS Director Sara Ross be placed on paid leave during the period of review, though his motion died without support from the board.
Board chair Jacob Willis made a motion to initiate a review of the child services program, and vice chair Matthew “Vern” Grindstaff amended the motion to include all facets of DSS, including financial records and personnel.
“Because of the questions in the community and some of the things that have been said, I’d like for an independent source to tell us what’s going on with DSS,” Willis said.
Following the approval of the review, Harding called for Ross to be placed on paid leave until the review is finished, but county attorney Lloyd Hise quickly intervened and changed the tone of the discussion.
“You might want to make it suspended with double pay,” Hise said. “She might not sue you if you say with double pay.”
Hise cautioned the board that not providing Ross with notice or a written allegation of wrongdoing was a slippery slope, and the discussion quickly subsided.
“Don’t blindside her,” Hise said. “She’s entitled to due process. Tell her what’s wrong with her and why you want her suspended. You don’t just pick out a county employee and say ‘you’re gone for six months.’ You can’t do that to anybody, not without notice and an opportunity for her to employ counsel.”
Ross sat in the front row next to DSS attorney Danny Hockaday, and after Hise’s comments, she responded while looking mainly in Harding’s direction.
“Everything has to be in closed session,” she said as a room full of the public listened in silence. “This is now a violation of closed session law.”