This time last year, without primary campaign ads blasting faux scandals across our televisions, we were caught up by a shocking political story that really happened: Everyone working at the Children, Youth and Families had been directed to auto-delete text messages on state-issued phones as a matter of policy.

We found out when a wife and husband recruited from out of state to take senior roles at the troubled agency, Debra and Cliff Gilmore, took the story public after being summarily fired for expressing concern over the text message policy, a multi-million-dollar no-bid software contract and other apparent ethics violations.

What's happening now? I checked in with Cliff Gilmore and tracked through Searchlight New Mexico's coverage of the scandal and also the CYFD website to get a pulse on CYFD in mid-2022.

First, in a move that surprised few of us, there has been a regime change (NM government crisis management 101: Request resignations until the media go away). I offer that the depth of resignations, and the quality of the new cabinet secretary, are surprising.

Secretary Brian Blalock stepped down in August of last year. I believe the only reason he lasted three months after the scandal broke is that the governor wanted to have a named replacement. And she found a solid one, former New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Barbara Vigil. I have to believe that finding anyone with any sort of diploma to take the helm of CYFD was a herculean effort, much less a former state supreme court justice.

But there has been more turnover at CYFD: the deputy secretary is gone; as is the general counsel; and the director of protective services (i.e., the perennially nightmarish foster care system in our state).

In other developments, Governor Lujan Grisham has gone on the record criticizing the use of the Signal app for text messaging at CYFD and that practice has ended. State Auditor Brian Colón, running for attorney general, found that the agency made an inappropriate no-bid contract award to Binti for a software system to manage all the agency's programs. The state Ethics Commission has scheduled a hearing for an ethics complaint filed against the department by the Gilmores and Doug and Jill Michel (the Michels have fostered more than two dozen children).

And the Gilmores are taking CYFD to court. They filed a lawsuit last fall which will likely be heard in early 2023. Columnist's note with no legal basis whatsoever: Revenge firing of nationally acclaimed children's advocacy attorney and a former public affairs chief for the Joint Staff is probably going to end badly. Just saying.

There were more wins for the fight for transparency at CYFD: Foster parent Doug Michel and Searchlight NM reporter Ed Williams were recipients of the 2021 William S. Dixon First Amendment Freedom Awards bestowed by the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government. Michel was recognized for his tireless work to break into the secret policies of CYFD, filing more than 300 records requests regarding foster parent requirements and regulations. Williams broke the story of the Signal app use at CYFD.

There were also heartbreaking losses. Once again, legislation that would establish an independent office to adjudicate complaints against CYFD failed to make it to a final vote. Once again, we see news stories about children sleeping on the floors of caseworkers' offices because there is no overnight facility for teens in crisis and not enough foster homes. Once again, we hear news coverage that child caseworkers' caseloads here are twice that of those in other states, yet they are among the lowest paid.

And that's just the "administrivia," as an Army friend of mine likes to call it. That's bad enough. Then there are the children dying. Like the 16-year-old girl brought dead to UNM Hospital last week by her 32-year-old mother with wounds showing where insects were eating her flesh. And the guilty plea just days later in the 2019 death of 4-year-old James Dunklee Cruz, whose attorneys say that lapel video shows that CYFD could have intervened two months before his death.

Politics and policy aside, innocent lives are at stake every day at CYFD. We are fortunate that people like the Gilmores, Michels and Williams don't just remember that but stick their necks out for that mission. We're lucky that talented people like Secretary Vigil and her new deputy are willing to bring their talents and professional credentials to the monumental task of righting this long-dysfunctional agency.

Because they simply must succeed in these pursuits.

May is National Foster Care Month. To learn more about foster parenting, resources for foster parents, or how to begin the process to become a foster parent, visit nmchildfirst.org.

Merritt Hamilton Allen is a PR executive and former Navy officer. She appears regularly as a panelist on NM PBS and is a frequent guest on News Radio KKOB. A Republican, she lives amicably with her Democratic husband north of I-40 where they run two head of dog, and two of cat. She can be reached at news.ind.merritt@gmail.com.

Content on the Beat

WARNING: All articles and photos with a byline or photo credit are copyrighted to the author or photographer. You may not use any information found within the articles without asking permission AND giving attribution to the source. Photos can be requested and may incur a nominal fee for use personally or commercially.

Disclaimer: If you find errors in articles not written by the Beat team but sent to us from other content providers, please contact the writer, not the Beat. For example, obituaries are always provided by the funeral home or a family member. We can fix errors, but please give details on where the error is so we can find it. News releases from government and non-profit entities are posted generally without change, except for legal notices, which incur a small charge.

NOTE: If an article does not have a byline, it was written by someone not affiliated with the Beat and then sent to the Beat for posting.

Images: We have received complaints about large images blocking parts of other articles. If you encounter this problem, click on the title of the article you want to read and it will take you to that article's page, which shows only that article without any intruders. 

New Columnists: The Beat continues to bring you new columnists. And check out the old faithfuls who continue to provide content.

Newsletter: If you opt in to the Join GCB Three Times Weekly Updates option above this to the right, you will be subscribed to email notifications with links to recently posted articles.

Submitting to the Beat

Those new to providing news releases to the Beat are asked to please check out submission guidelines at https://www.grantcountybeat.com/about/submissions. They are for your information to make life easier on the readers, as well as for the editor.

Advertising: Don't forget to tell advertisers that you saw their ads on the Beat.

Classifieds: We have changed Classifieds to a cheaper and shorter option. Check periodically to see if any new ones have popped up. The former software failed us, so it's just a category now, with prices posted. Send your information to editor@grantcountybeat.com and we will post it as soon as we can. Instructions and prices are on the page.

Editor's Notes

It has come to this editor's attention that people are sending information to the Grant County Beat Facebook page. Please be aware that the editor does not regularly monitor the page. If you have items you want to send to the editor, please send them to editor@grantcountybeat.com. Thanks!

Here for YOU: Consider the Beat your DAILY newspaper for up-to-date information about Grant County. It's at your fingertips! One Click to Local News. Thanks for your support for and your readership of Grant County's online news source—www.grantcountybeat.com

Feel free to notify editor@grantcountybeat.com if you notice any technical problems on the site. Your convenience is my desire for the Beat.  The Beat totally appreciates its readers and subscribers!  

Compliance: Because you are an esteemed member of The Grant County Beat readership, be assured that we at the Beat continue to do everything we can to be in full compliance with GDPR and pertinent US law, so that the information you have chosen to give to us cannot be compromised.