Capitol Alert

Roger Dickinson responds to CPS attack ads

Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, who is running for the state Senate, shown in August 2014.
Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, who is running for the state Senate, shown in August 2014. aseng@sacbee.com

Democratic Assemblyman Roger Dickinson lashed out Monday against what he called “faceless and unaccountable super PACs” that have launched a multimedia advertising campaign attacking him for serious problems at Sacramento’s Child Protective Services during the years he oversaw the agency as a member of the county Board of Supervisors.

The ads – which are on television, in print mailers and on a website devoted to the issue – are being paid for by groups supporting Dickinson’s opponent, fellow Democratic Assemblyman Richard Pan, in their race to replace termed-out Sen. Darrell Steinberg in the state Senate. Spending by such outside groups has made this race the most expensive same-party legislative contest in the state. Committees funded by doctors, dentists, hospitals, health care workers and apartment owners are paying for the attacks, which say Dickinson “did nothing” in response to grand jury findings that children were dying at the hands of their abusive parents in part because management of CPS was so bad.

“What’s worse than lying about my record is the exploitation of children and families who have already suffered too much. In so doing, these super PACs continue to coarsen our political dialogue and demonstrate that they will sink to the lowest level for political gain,” Dickinson said during a press conference in front of a social service agency in Del Paso Heights.

“Let the record be clear. ... I devoted much of my work as a supervisor to efforts to reduce child abuse and neglect, contrary to the lies of my political opponents.”

Dickinson then went on to detail several actions he has taken to prevent child abuse – establishing a CPS oversight committee in 1996, setting up home visitation programs that send nurses to visit at-risk parents, voting with the board to hire an outside consultant to change practices at CPS, and carrying a bill that expands the categories of people who must report suspected child abuse to authorities.

“We made a number of changes over those years but they apparently didn’t satisfy the grand jury,” Dickinson said.

Sacramento’s grand jury investigated CPS several times during the 17 years Dickinson served on the board and found numerous problems that it said contributed to the deaths of children.

It issued one report in 2009 that was prompted by a Sacramento Bee investigation that found a growing number of Sacramento children who died of abuse or neglect lived in households that were involved with CPS before their deaths. The grand jury questioned the management of CPS and the Health and Human Services Department that runs it, saying agency leaders showed “persistent unwillingness to accept responsibility” and that the supervisors and county executive were “ultimately accountable.”

In the months that followed, the Board of Supervisors approved a series of oversight measures, including bringing in an outside consultant to change practices at CPS and provide monthly progress reports to the board. The county eventually replaced the top two officials in charge of CPS.

Dickinson said he and the board were responsive. “We tried to do, and did, when I was a member of the board, the best job we could,” he said. “And when we had claims made that we didn’t do enough, we did more.”

The attack ads also criticize Dickinson for introducing a bill in the Assembly to change the way grand juries do their investigations. Dickinson said the bill he carried “had nothing to do” with what he did as a county supervisor.

“My effort with that legislation ... was to make sure that the grand jury system worked well and that it was accountable,” Dickinson said. He declined to describe the problems with grand juries that his legislation sought to address. “We’re here to talk about the ads that are falsely accusing me of doing nothing about child abuse and neglect.”

Responding to Dickinson, Steve Maviglio, a spokesman for the campaign committee that made the ad, said “it was enlightening ... that he refused to answer questions about why he wrote legislation that good government groups all said would ‘neuter’ the grand jury system.”

Call Laurel Rosenhall, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 321-1083. Follow her on Twitter @LaurelRosenhall.

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