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Dysfunction or something worse?

Decision regarding legal protection for children raises cause for concern

At best it’s an example of a lack of communication and dysfunction, and at its worst it’s an example of a county official manipulating a situation to achieve what he wanted.

We are talking about the events at last week’s board of supervisors’ meeting that left a local attorney without a contract, and the county counsel finding more work to justify additional personnel in his office.

During the Plumas County Board of Supervisors’ July 2 meeting, it was learned that the same day that Social Services Director Neal Caiazzo sent a letter extending a new contract to local attorney Bill Abramson, County Counsel Craig Settlemire sent Abramson a letter saying that the county no longer needed his services. Is anyone in charge in Plumas County? Where was the new county administrator in this process? Why didn’t county counsel alert social services of his intent? Why was the entire fiasco on the board’s agenda for discussion when it was known that Abramson had a scheduled vacation with his family and wouldn’t be able to participate?

This wasn’t the first time that the county counsel sought to bring child welfare legal services into his office. When the notion arose a couple of years ago, it met with opposition. Settlemire said that Abramson has held the contract since 2017, but he has actually handled the work the past two decades according to the former social services director, Elliott Smart, who described Abramson as “very capable.” The current social services director, Neal Caiazzo, said that he appreciated Abramson’s “20-plus years working with social services” and he hoped the county counsel’s office would represent the clients as well as Abramson had. Which brings up the question: If it’s working why change it?

Settlemire’s argument is that his office would have three attorneys available to handle the caseload and that sometimes Abramson had a conflict of interest. But Settlemire only recently added a third attorney, and was apparently able to do so by co-opting the contract money that had been going to Abramson. And just because there are attorneys available, it doesn’t mean that they are able to handle child welfare cases. Apparently they will be trained. It’s odd, because just recently, the county counsel’s office tried to divest itself of assisting the public with small claims because his office didn’t have the time.

This entire situation didn’t sit well with District Attorney David Hollister who has long bemoaned the fact that the county has grown the county counsel’s office with staff and increased salaries, while his own office has struggled to keep up with the caseload and offer competitive pay. He argued that at the very least, Settlemire should have waited to present the option to the supervisors when Abramson was available to contribute to the conversation.

He said that as the DA he knows that “child dependency matters are among the most important cases any court handles. They involve the safety of at-risk children and health of families in our community. Interactions between the DA’s office and Mr. Abramson concerning dependency (and related) cases have been nothing but positive.”

He summed up our sentiments when he said, “It was not one of Plumas County’s prouder moments when the board of supervisors granted county counsel’s request and terminated Mr. Abramson’s contract without any objective background research, desire by social services for a change, or even providing Mr. Abramson the opportunity to appear at the board’s meeting and be heard.”

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