Interim Rockbridge DSS Director speaks with WDBJ7 about recent controversy

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LEXINGTON, Va. (WDBJ7) Below is a transcript of an interview with WDBJ7 Anchor Chris Hurst and Rockbridge Area Social Services Interim Director Bill Burleson. Burleson was named to the position Thursday after the prior director retired during a DSS review of complaints from employees and local law enforcement. That report found widespread problems, including a supervisor who bullied staff and shredded reports of child abuse. The Rockbridge County Sheriff's Office is investigating events for possible criminal charges.

Chris Hurst/WDBJ7

CH: You got a call though from Sue Reese (Piedmont Regional DSS Director.) When was that?

BB: Probably Tuesday. Monday or Tuesday.

CH: And what was kind of the nature of the call?

BB: She just wanted to know if I’d heard of things going bad in Rockbridge County and wanted to know if I would be willing to help them out for a short time.

CH: And did you think about saying yes?

BB: I did. I told her yes. Yeah.

CH: Was it something that you had to think about?

BB: No because I had seen article’s about it and it wasn’t a total surprise that I got the phone call.

CH: But that made you desirous of wanting to come and be the interim director?

BB: Well I could see what happened. If I didn’t want it I wouldn’t be here.

CH: What makes you want to take on this role at this time for this agency?

BB: I think the workers because having worked in Botetourt (as local DSS director) I can see how this would really affect the workers in our agency and do what I can to get the agency back on track. I really love Child Protective Services and helping children and that’s just what I do and have done for many years.

CH: Part of the report that the Piedmont Region put out included surveys that showed very low morale. How do you work to try to improve that morale?

BB: Well I started today. I just met about half the people that were there and I have a very light approach. I want everyone to call me Bill. I want to get to know them, I want go to go lunch with them. I want them talking to each other. There’s been issues where the agency just did not cooperate with the police department or sheriff’s department and if people start working together they’re going to get along a lot better.

CH: Do you get the sense they feel a little wounded to have their agency and their reputation be out there like this?

BB: I think so because generally people in Social Services are very serious about what they do. They don’t do it for the money, I can assure you that. If it’s not their passion, they move on. CPS is a very difficult job both emotionally and physically.

CH: How did your first tour and introductions go?

BB: Oh very well. Turns out I know a couple I had worked with in the past that I didn’t realize were here. That’s helped, that’s a good transition. They can tell people they knew me before and I’m a good guy.

CH: I guess because you know some of the people here before, you were working in nearby Botetourt, Clifton Forge, other places in this area, you’ve worked for DSS for a while.

BB: Yes.

CH: What was the reputation of Rockbridge Social Services?

BB: I had never heard anything bad. I was the director in Botetourt County. We really didn’t have a lot.. we’re not physically close. I mean the borders are close but we didn’t have a lot to do with them. I met the director in a couple meetings but really hadn’t heard much about them until I was kind of surprised at the article.

CH: Is that the emotion that you felt when you read that?

BB: Oh yeah because the types of things, the types of allegations are extremely serious and in the Child Protective Services world those things that were alleged are very serious offenses.

CH: Do you worry about trying to improve your standing in the community?

BB: Well that is what I feel my job is. To get people to trust the agency because right now, like I said, there’s a feeling that if things get reported nothing will happen. That makes people not report things and child abuse can get missed in some instances.

CH: Does that feeling have merit?

BB: It’s possible, yeah. And that’s what I’m here to address. Yeah.

CH: What’s a timeline for you for things for you as director over these next weeks?

BB: Regardless of what investigations are going on the business of Social Services must continue. They have to distribute SNAP benefits, they have to distribute Medicaid benefits, they have to take care of the foster children, pay light bills for people that are in need. All the day to day stuff has to happen, regardless if there’s an internal investigation or an external investigation or a derecho. The business of Social Services continues. That’s my job. It’s not being investigator, that’s being done by other agencies. My job is just to do the day to day business and make sure the bills get paid, people get paid and personnel things get done.

CH: You touched on these investigations. It must provide a deep challenge for you that your agency is now a part of an ongoing criminal investigation.

BB: Oh yeah. Yeah. Because I have to be careful not to tread on anything that might be external to what I’m doing. Because I don’t want to mess up someone else’s criminal investigation. I’m totally behind the investigation.

CH: Why take the job then if there’s so much difficulty present before you now?

BB: I’m not sure I totally know the answer other than it’s a challenge and this is something I’ve done all my life and right now it’s hot to do too much else. And I enjoy the work. I enjoyed it up until the last day I was in Botetourt. The only reason I retired is because I’d gotten old enough and I thought if I don’t retire soon I’m going to miss out.

CH: Have you been able to identify and systems or procedures that do need to be fundamentally addressed?

BB: I haven’t had a chance to even get into that yet. I’ve only met about half the employees. The office manager wasn’t here [Friday.] I came down [Friday] to get things started, get me into the computer systems so I can see how things are flowing. I can’t read the cases unless I can get into the computer and it’s a very cumbersome process to go through Richmond and the state computer systems. I’m setting that up now so when I do come in I’ll be ready to go.

CH: What do you want the people of Rockbridge County to know about how children, seniors and the poor will be treated?

BB: I want them to know if they make a complaint, it’ll be looked at. I want them to be able to trust the agency. I felt I really had that trust in Botetourt and I’d like to do the same thing here.

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