Controversy shadows new head of Redwood City Human Services

REDWOOD CITY — Supervisors voted unanimously to hire Beverly Beasley Johnson as head of the Human Services Agency Tuesday, discounting two reports that paint a troubled picture of the Kern County Human Services Department she currently runs.

One report, published this month by the Child Welfare League of America, takes the Kern County department to task for failing to ensure “accuracy, fairness and overall safety” for children who fall under the purview of the county’s child protective services division. Another report, published by the Kern County Citizens Review Panel in April, criticizes the department for its deficient structure and stability over a “significant period of time.”

Johnson, who worked as Kern County Human Services director beginning in April 2002, will take over from Interim Director Glen Brooks in San Mateo County Nov. 13. While acknowledging several controversies during Johnson’s tenure, San Mateo County supervisors and County Manager John Maltbie said they’re confident Johnson has learned from past mistakes and is qualified for the job.

Johnson couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday.

“We did an extensive screening process and background check and she emerged as the top candidate in that process,” Maltbie said Tuesday, after supervisors acted on his recommendation to hire Johnson.

State Sen. Dean Florez, D-Shafter, who represents the area near Kern County, has lambasted Johnson repeatedly and called on Kern County supervisors to investigate her department. Last September, Johnson agreed to reimburse the county after it was discovered that her department sent a group of foster parents on an all-inclusive cruise ship vacation so they could attend a 12-hour training course, all on taxpayers’ dime.

In 2003, Florez called for the state to take over Kern County child protective services, part of the Human Services Department, after a 23-month-old was left in a feces-smeared closet over the weekend, in spite of his sister reporting the abuse on Friday.

Local officials Tuesday defended their decision to hire Johnson, saying that the Kern County Human Services Department had some “serious problems” prior to her arrival, which she was able to address. “We’ve had anomalies in San Mateo County and episodes that have been the exception rather than the rule, and it will happen anywhere,” President of the Board of Supervisors Jerry Hill said of his vote for Johnson.

The San Mateo County Human Services Agency, under former Director Maureen Borland, suffered its own crisis in 2002 when an 8-month-old boy was killed by his father on Christmas Day. A county inquiry eventually led to the overhaul of the system.

Johnson was forthcoming about past controversies under her watch, raising them during the interview process, Maltbie said. “Now she has the 5-0 support of her local supervisors and has received positive reviews from fellow Kern County department heads, as well as community organizations,” Malbie said.

Having been on welfare herself for a time in the past, Johnson brings a certain insider perspective to the position, officials said. A social worker for 30 years who earned her law degree from the College of Law in Detroit, she will make $150,000 a year.

ecarpenter@examiner.comBay Area NewsLocal

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