Ducey accepts resignation of Arizona economic security head

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX (AP) -- The director of the Arizona Department of Economic Security, who survived a scandal at his Child Protective Services unit last year with the backing of then-Gov. Jan Brewer, handed in his resignation letter Monday just after Gov. Doug Ducey took the oath of office.

Clarence Carter oversaw the department while thousands of child abuse and neglect cases went unassigned, but he kept his job because of Brewer's continued support. Brewer pulled Child Protective Services from Carter's department and pushed for it to become a separate agency called the Department of Child Safety last year.

An interim replacement will be named soon, Ducey spokesman Daniel Scarpinato said. Ducey appreciates Carter's service, the spokesman said.

Scarpinato said he wasn't aware of any other cabinet-level resignations among Brewer's agency directors, and he wouldn't say if Ducey asked for Carter to step down. It is not uncommon for new governors to replace many if not all department heads with their own appointees.

Carter's resignation letter doesn't mention the CPS scandal. Instead, he said his professional passion has always been serving socially and economically vulnerable people more effectively and he hopes to continue that effort.

"It is my sincere hope that next chapter will find a welcome partner in the Ducey administration in the objective of re-inventing the American safety net," Carter wrote. "The more than one and half million Arizonans served by the agency would greatly benefit from a new vision to grow their capacity and reduce their dependency."

In an email to staff released by the agency, Carter said he was moving on to new opportunities and would share them soon. He hinted that he would remain engaged with Arizona's social welfare system, although he did not specify them. Carter praised his staff for their work.

"During the past four years we have weathered some monumental challenges including the most difficult economy since the great depression and the tremendous crisis that befell our child welfare system," Carter said. "Through those and other challenges we reported for duty and served vulnerable Arizonans with distinction."

Carter's last day is Friday.

The Department of Economic Security oversees more than 40 safety-net programs, including welfare, unemployment insurance, child support and the state's Medicaid insurance program for low-income residents.

The scandal at CPS that erupted in November 2013 brought a deluge of calls for Carter's firing from Democrats in the Legislature and social service advocates. But Brewer backed him, and an investigation by state police found no evidence he was aware that that calls to the state's child welfare hotline were being illegally misclassified as not requiring a response.

Five senior CPS workers were fired in April by the head of the new child safety department for orchestrating the plan that led to more than 6,500 Arizona child abuse and neglect cases being closed without investigations. Carter fired a sixth senior administrator who still worked for his agency.

The five CPS workers filed a wrongful-termination claim against the state seeking $10.5 million in October. The former employees argued that their firings were the result of officials "seeking to foist blame on innocent employees least capable of defending themselves," according to the claim, a precursor to a potential lawsuit.

Carter was hired by Brewer in 2011. He previously oversaw federal food stamp programs during the administration of George W. Bush, worked in Virginia's social service agency and was director of the Department of Human Services in Washington, D.C.