Department of Juvenile Justice staffers had a different tone on Tuesday during their first meeting before a House oversight panel since the agency’s director resigned.
Acting DJJ Director Freddie Pough asked a panel of House members to forgive him for his previous appearance before the panel. He opened Tuesday’s meeting with “we need your support.”
“The last time I stood before you, I stood as just the inspector general,” Pough said. “I want to make sure that my passion was not taken as defensiveness or arrogance or as being pompous.”
The last time Pough referred to was on Jan. 26, when DJJ staffers, including then-director Sylvia Murray, went before the same panel to address an audit by the Legislative Audit Council.
Pough said at the time that some of the audit’s findings were “very opinionated and biased.” But on Tuesday, he stressed his statements came from a place of passion for the work the agency is doing.
Since then, he said personal feelings have been taken out of the way, and the agency has proceeded with addressing the 74 recommendations the audit made to DJJ.
“There’s no need in resisting what’s in this audit,” Pough said. “We’re going to work to accomplish them. As I sit here and speak with you, 59 percent of those findings have been completed.”
Pough also told lawmakers that some of the things are out of the agency’s control, and asked for help to address them.
“We’re willing to accept that help,” Pough said. “We’re willing to accept that we haven’t done everything right.”
Those words were in stark contrast from Murray’s, who said during the Jan. 26 meeting that they felt like “here at the agency that we are actually doing a good job.” Murray resigned on Jan. 27, a day after she made that statement to the oversight panel.
Rep. Katie Arrington, R-Dorchester, said Tuesday she appreciated Pough’s willingness during the previous hearing to acknowledge issues that needed to improve at DJJ.
“They have a long way to go,” Arrington said. “I think they’ve done some good progress...we’re now in 2017. We need to get it moving. These are kids’ lives.”
Meanwhile just a few hours after the meeting, an agency staffer was assaulted by “several juveniles,” said Patrick Montgomery, DJJ spokesman. The incident happened around 1 p.m. at the Birchwood School on DJJ’s Broad River Road Complex in Richland County.
“We are investigating what happened and exactly how it happened, but we can confidently say the rapid response of our staff and implementation of enhanced security procedures helped prevent an escalating situation,” Montgomery said. “We returned to normal operations within minutes.”